There is no doubt that Anne Bishop can write a compelling and entertaining story. The problem is that lurking under that very compelling and entertaining story is an ugly miasma of misogyny and -in this book’s case- racism. While not overtly rapey as The Black Jewels trilogy was, this book is still very much within Anne Bishop’s oeuvre, and that oeuvre means it’s sexist as hell and contains some really disturbing relationships.
The plot is simple enough. A girl, Meg, on the run from people who think they own her finds shelter with The Others. The Others are supernatural creatures that dominate the world, and top of the food chain, but allow humans a small portion to live. There is culture clash and danger as the people seeking Meg attempt to reclaim her.
I’m going to start with what I enjoyed. The bits with the ponies was cute. And I liked the cop’s POV chapters. I liked him quite a bit actually. But of course his ex was a slutty, social climbing, gold-digging bitch who was keeping him from his angelic daughter. Because of course she was.
There are so many problems with this book, I’m not really sure where to begin. The world building? It’s really shoddy, really shoddy. Oh, it’s a very interesting idea but the execution is lacking. I like the idea of humanity not being the top of the food chain and how we might develop differently because of that. The problem is that this is not some strange world completely different from what we know. This is earth, with a few minor changes but has developed EXACTLY as we have. Technology, the idea that we would explore and colonize, etc. The only real difference is that most of the world is inhabited by monsters. But even with those monsters, humanity still somehow managed to come up with all the technology (gunpowder springs to mind as the most egregious example) and has spread out to live in and around these monsters. On top of that, somehow even though humans have been interacting with/running from/living with these monsters for thousands of years the two cultures are completely foreign to each other.
As a side note, if you want to protect humanity- as is laid out in the small alt history lesson prologue- you don’t put them in the Mediterranean, which is the meeting place of THREE continents.
And UGH, I could go on.
But the ugliest part of the world building is the inherent racism. My favorite review on Gooodreads sums up the whole book like this:
You can’t just set a novel in an alt-version of Earth, and then completely replace entire groups of people with monsters and not raise questions of racism. If she had set this novel on a world that wasn’t Earth the problem wouldn’t be quite as evident. But this isn’t some alien place, this is an alternate history Earth. Yes, there are reasons within the novels that humans never expanded beyond the Mediterranean area (until it was convenient for plot reasons), but Bishop is still replacing entire cultures and civilizations with monsters. Also, while the Mediterranean is close to the cradle of civilization, humans started/evolved in Africa. Why the HELL are her humans white Europeans? If they never spread out far from their beginnings, they should be Africans. But nope, Africa is dominated by The Others, as she specifically mentions at one point in the novel.
And then there’s the sexism. Men and women have very specific roles in Bishop’s world and they don’t deviate from them. In one particularly infuriating scene Simon-the male lead- gives Meg a new place to live and says “Some females will be by to get this place human clean” But the whole concept of human clean had only JUST been introduced to any one of The Others. Still a female’s job. And that word “Female” UGH.
Most annoying though is the fact that while there are extremely powerful female Others, it’s men who lead the culture. Seriously, why? Why was Simon the one in charge and not Tess or the quartet of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter? And it’s not that he was the Other face that associated with human’s either. He was the boss in charge of that whole area.
And that’s not even getting to the fact that Simon represents my least favorite trope when dealing with werewolves. I love werewolf stories. I love them. Werewolves are my favorite monster. But unfortunately a lot of the stories that play with the werewolf mythos are sexist and have the ugly alpha asshole stereotype. And Simon is absolutely no different. It’s as though in trying to make these werewolves more like animals the authors, and Bishop in this case, simply highlights the worst traits of humanity and calls that animalistic.
Also, the plot moppet annoyed me.
Quick Edit: And I completely forgot to mention how disturbing I found the relationship between Meg and Simon. Meg reads MAYBE 16 in the novel. She’s supposed to be around 24, but because she’s so sheltered she’s just very young. VERY YOUNG. So the developing relationship between her and Simon is just… no thanks.