Series: The Others #4
Published by Roc on March 8th 2016
Genres: Urban/Contemporary Fantasy
Format: Finished hardcover
Even before I started this one, I had a feeling something big was coming. For three books now, Anne Bishop has been ramping up the tensions between the Others and the Humans First and Last (HFL) movement, a radical anti-terra indigene group that has been playing with fire since the beginning of this series. All that pent-up rage and energy had to be going somewhere, and that somewhere turned out to be in the pages of Marked in Flesh.
For centuries, a delicate balance has existed between humans and the creatures that inhabited the land before we got here. The Others, who see humans as prey, have only allowed this truce to continue because they benefit from the relationship as well, enjoying the useful trade goods that humans produce from the natural resources that are under terra indigene control. However, the HFL has made it clear that they are tired of this compromise, issuing a warning to all that a reckoning is at hand.
Caught in the middle of this conflict is Lakeside Courtyard and its leader Simon Wolfgard, the wolf shifter. The arrival of a cassandra sangue named Meg Corbyn has done much to alleviate the bad blood between the Others and the humans in this location, creating a relatively safe place for the two groups to get along. But as HFL violence starts spilling into their daily lives, Simon and the rest of the terra indigene will have to take steps to protect their own, and that may lead to some difficult choices.
Marked in Flesh is undoubtedly a turning point for this series, complete with a significant event that draws a line in the sand. Going forward, a lot of the characters will likely be defined by this moment. The world is also forever changed with the awakening of the Elders, which for all intents and purposes are the “super-terra indigene” of The Others universe. These are beings that even the earth natives themselves fear. For all their bluster and rhetoric, HFL is clearly screwed.
Still, these intense circumstances are merely the backdrop for what happens in Lakeside Courtyard, which is where the true interest is. Simon and Meg are again at the center of all this chaos, but there are also a lot of supporting characters to fill out the story. There’s a good number of perspectives to follow, but at this point in the series, I think this broader view is exactly what it needs. The Others is also somewhat of an oddity for me, since it’s one of the rare cases where I love the books but I’m not too crazy about its protagonist. Meg Corbyn hasn’t grown on me, and I feel her lack of agency in her own series continues to be a weak point, even in Marked in Flesh. She makes a bit of progress in this book, seeking other ways for her fellow blood prophets to get by without resorting to cutting, but in the end Meg is still a confused mess, even to herself. I still don’t really understand the reverence the terra indigene have for her. My enjoyment was instead carried by my love for some of the other characters, and so getting a bigger picture from those POVs actually worked well for me.
Of course, a lot happens in this very important volume, and Anne Bishop does not pull any punches. On the other hand, I also couldn’t help but feel that certain things have been dragging out. It took this long for the HFL conflict to finally come to a head, but certain other plot threads are still hanging. Not much progress has been made it comes to the fate of the liberated cassandra sangue, for example. And if there’s ever going to be any romance between Simon and Meg, then it had better come quick. When I look at the two of them now, I don’t see lovers; I see a relationship that reminds me of a child and her dog. Any chemistry between the two of them has been slowly leaking away, and if something doesn’t happen soon, I’m afraid it will fizzle out altogether.
In spite of my misgivings though, I’m still really excited for the future of The Others. It’s typical for urban fantasy series to have their ups and downs, and I feel that Marked in Flesh found a middle ground, holding steady on some plot points while also giving readers a watershed moment that will leave no one unscathed. If nothing else, I think this will set the stage for even greater things to come. I eagerly await the next installment!
This review originally appeared on The BiblioSanctum.
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