Serena’s Review: “Marked in Flesh”

Marked in Flesh Book: “Marked in Flesh” by Anne Bishop

Publishing Info: Penquin/Roc, March 2016

Where Did I Get this Book: the library!

Book Description from Goodreads: For centuries, the Others and humans have lived side by side in uneasy peace. But when humankind oversteps its bounds, the Others will have to decide how much humanity they’re willing to tolerate—both within themselves and within their community…

Since the Others allied themselves with the cassandra sangue, the fragile yet powerful human blood prophets who were being exploited by their own kind, the delicate dynamic between humans and Others changed. Some, like Simon Wolfgard, wolf shifter and leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, and blood prophet Meg Corbyn, see the new, closer companionship as beneficial—both personally and practically.

But not everyone is convinced. A group of radical humans is seeking to usurp land through a series of violent attacks on the Others. What they don’t realize is that there are older and more dangerous forces than shifters and vampires protecting the land that belongs to the Others—and those forces are willing to do whatever is necessary to protect what is theirs…

Review: This is the fourth book in Anne Bishop’s “The Others” series. I absolutely loved her first book in this series, “Written in Red,” and have been diligently following along ever since. Mostly because of the slow burn relationship building between Simon and Meg, let’s be honest. But Bishop’s version of the world, the complicated and flipped history of a native people retaining their influence and power over their homeland against a colonizing force, has also been a compelling factor in my decision to keep reading. However, my motivation has been slowly waning with each new book, as Bishop seems either unclear of her direction or unwilling to get there in what I consider a timely manner. I was generally frustrated by “Marked in Flesh,” as similarly to previous books, it continues the slow decline since the high of “Written in Red.”

This book starts off pretty much exactly where the last left off. The “Humans First and Last” movement, an anti-Others, radical terrorist group, is going strong in their attempt to claim land that they believe they are entitled to. The problem with this narrative has been the same throughout the series. As the book is framed from the perspective of Meg and Simon, primarily, the reader has first hand knowledge of the strength of the Others and the futility of the HFL movement is clear from the beginning. It’s not a true conflict. It’s more, how badly with the HFL movement fail and how many humans will suffer for it.

But this aspect of the story has also been one of the key elements that has kept me interested in the series. The complete flip in power that Bishop sets up is intriguing. It’s impressive how easily she manages to set up the humans (by and large almost all of them) as the villains of this world. I have increasingly found myself becoming exasperated not by the fact that there is a conflict between the humans and the Others, but because I’m reading along thinking “Just smite them already and be done with it!” A very bizarre take to have, I realize, but one that Bishop pretty effectively imposes on the reader. The humans in this world seem to be either full blown terrorists bombing, poisoning, or simply mowing down innocent Others with machine guns, or ignorant fools, content with not only sitting back as these atrocities are committed, but ostracizing and victimizing other groups of humans who don’t join the cause. It’s hard to feel sympathy for many people other than the ones we are directly exposed to.

But because she sets up the groups in this conflict so unequally, both in sympathy and power, this book was largely a drag. It was clear from the beginning that things were headed south for human/Others relations, and about midway through the book, the HFL movement pounds the last nail in their own coffin by committing an even more egrgious  act of violence. But it still takes so, so long for the conflict to even happen! And when it does, it is largely off screen. Instead, 80% of the story is spend preparing for the new world that will come after this near apocalyptic event. There are pages and pages of people discussing ordering extra supplies (an annoying fixation on female toiletries is I think meant to be some type of “Others don’t understand human females” joke but becomes tired very quickly), details on communication and travel logistics, space planning, etc. It was incredibly tiresome. Bishop has given us all-powerful native people! And instead we’re listening to Simon fixate on Meg’s need for books to read when she’s hunkered down waiting out this oncoming “storm” of the Others’ retaliation. Firstly, I’m pretty sure this is a silly thing to be discussing between multiple people. If this is actually a disaster level event, Meg’s boredom is NOT something that needs to be included in the “to worry about” list. And secondly, I don’t care! Give me some action, already!

Also, the cast of characters only adds to this problem. Simon and Meg are interesting. All of the extra human characters are not. The police men who have been present in the other book make a showing here, and while familiarity lends them a bit of interest, there is very little for them to do in this story. There is no preventing this, so again, it’s largely discussing reacting to an inevitable event. Discussions, discussions. And a few extra human characters show up as well. Guess what they’re doing? That is right. Discussing preparations in yet another town. The more interesting Other characters from previous books are also very underutilized in this book, only adding to the frustration of reading chapters from new human perspectives.

And I can’t finish this review without touching on Meg and Simon. Meg, for one, has sadly gone the route that I have been worrying about for the last several books. She has become increasingly inactive as the books have went along. In the first book, she was new to this world and actively participates in its going ons. Now, however, she is treated as a valuable commodity, to be worried over, but very rarely having anything to actually do. And for a powerful seer, that is incredibly disappointing. Even worse, in the first few books she was verging on becoming a bit of a “special snowflake” character where everyone and their mother loved her right off the bat with very little actual reason. Sadly, this becomes even worse in this book, to the point of being ridiculous.

Simon has now become my favorite character. The few action scenes in this book directly relate to how he sees the world and his position in it. His arc as a character has been steady, realistic, and interesting. And unlike other characters, his relationship with Meg feels earned and is thus much more intriguing. But come on, it’s been four books!

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I haven’t written off the series entirely, but “Marked in Flesh” continues a slow downward trend in my enjoyment of these books. I’ll give it one more go, but if I have to read about the “human female pack” creating lists of toiletries again, I’m out.

Rating 5: I’m very sad that it has come to this. But the primary emotion this book inspired was frustration, unfortunately.

Reader’s Advisory:

As “Marked in Flesh” is new, I’m going to mention Goodreads lists that include the first book in the series, “Written in Red:” “Monster Is Only in the Eye of the Beholder: Paranormal Xenofiction” and “Best Lesser-Known Books.”

Find “Marked in Flesh” at your library using WorldCat!

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