Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Rating: 4.5 stars
This is the third book in a series, and while romance novels are normally fine to read out of sequence, some of the really awesome developments in this book lose a lot if you haven't read the rest of the series. These books are top notch romance, so just do yourself a favour and start at the beginning with A Rogue by Any Other Name. And yes, I know the titles are spectacularly cheesy. I recently discovered in a podcast that these are MacLean's own puns, not anything imposed on her by the publishers. I don't know whether to be impressed or slightly worried about her.
The great hulking brute known as Temple also goes The Killer Duke. He is one of four disgraced members of the aristocracy who own luxury gambling club The Fallen Angel. When the rich and foolish have lost too much, and have no other recourse, they can fight Temple in the Angel's boxing ring. Should they win, all their losses will be restored. Not that anyone ever has, but it never stops them from trying. William Harrow, the Duke of Lamont, shunned by most of polite society because he is suspected of having killed his father's fiancee, is more than happy to take every beating coming, because he's honestly not entirely sure he doesn't deserve his moniker.
Twelve years earlier, he awoke with only the haziest memories of the night before, to discover that the bewitching beauty who'd invited him up to her room was Miss Mara Lowe, his father's sixteen-year-old child bride and soon to be the Duke's third wife. There was no sign of the bride, only him, naked in sheets soaked in blood. Never convicted as there wasn't a body, Temple was nonetheless driven from polite society, and survived in the less prosperous parts of town because of his boxing prowess. After a while, he teamed up with Michael Lawler, the Marquess of Bourne (hero of book one) to run dice games, until the two were nearly killed by street thugs not too happy with their business venture. They were saved by Chase, the mysterious founder of the Fallen Angel, and became part-owners in the club.
Now Christopher Lowe, Mara's brother keeps challenging Temple, wanting to fight him for the chance to reclaim his squandered fortunes. Temple keeps refusing, not wanting anything to do with anyone named Lowe. Walking home one evening, he is approached by a woman revealing herself to be Mara Lowe, who, desperate to escape her wedding, did an incredibly foolish thing twelve years ago, and has been in hiding ever since. She promises to come forward and tell the world that Temple is innocent, as long as he restores her brother's funds. Temple has been tormented for over a decade, because Mara made everyone believe he killed her. He's not going to be satisfied with mere absolution, he wants revenge.
Sarah MacLean keeps amazing me, with each new book, she does something new and exciting. Mara genuinely ruined Temple's life. For twelve years, she hid under an assumed name and let everyone keep on believing that the Marquess of Chapin, later Duke of Lamont, had brutally killed her and disposed of the body. Because she drugged him to carry out her disappearance, Temple has never really had a clear recollection of the evening in question himself, and with his brute strength and capacity for anger, occasionally doubted his own innocence. So he's quite righteously furious when she returns, not even particularly remorseful, trying to negotiate with him. Temple doesn't just want her to clear his name, he wants to humiliate her and make her suffer, as much as possible. We're entirely on Temple's side. Mara is clearly the villain of the piece here.
So how in the world do these two find their happy ending. There was clearly attraction between them, that fateful night twelve years ago, when Mara set her foolish escape plan in motion. Even through the anger Temple feels, he can't help but feel drawn towards her. It's also made clear, over the course of the story, that while Mara doesn't feel like she had a choice, and initially seems quite unconcerned for the immense suffering she's caused, she changes her mind the more time she spends with Temple. The fact that she was sixteen, inexperienced and desperate, and completely unaware of Temple's real identity when she set her plan in motion is also made obvious. In what may seem like a terrible cliche, she now runs an orphanage for young by-blows of the aristocracy, and the reason she needs her brother's debts cleared is because she gave her brother the orphanage's funds to manage, and he carelessly lost them too. If she can't get the money back, the young boys in her care will starve. She can't tell Temple the truth as he makes it very clear that nothing she says or does will sway him from his plan to see her utterly humiliated in the eyes of society.
Temple's business partners and their wives do make cameo appearances in the book, and while they are also deeply furious with Mara to begin with, they start changing their attitudes towards her when they realise that she seems to actually care for Temple, and wants to atone for her past actions. It's more common in romance that the hero is the dislikable scoundrel who needs to win the forgiveness of the heroine and her circle. Here it's the other way around, and it's a brave choice by MacLean. Mara has clearly been sticking her head in the sand, desperately trying not to think about the consequences her actions had. Temple is still a Duke after all, and wealthy beyond his wildest dreams. She's been constantly looking over her shoulder, terrified that someone would find her and unravel her secrets. She has to face ugly facts about herself, and her actions, and show herself to be a worthy partner to Temple. Over the course of the book, she's also able to make him see that while his reputation is not what it used to be, he has a lot of good things in his new life to be thankful for, and maybe polite society isn't all that great to be a welcome part of, after all.
Courtney Milan still has the edge, but Sarah MacLean is now neck and neck with her for the title of best historical romance writer out there right now. It's a well-known tradition that in series of romances, the most interesting character is saved for last. Here it's the founder of the Fallen Angel, Chase, who is left until the end, and after the final two pages of this book (which made my jaw figuratively fall to the floor and swear out loud into an empty living room, I was so blown away), I can honestly say that I will be on tenter-hook. It doesn't look like it'll be out until August of next year, but if the first three books in this series are anything to go by, Courtney Milan may have to kiss her crown good-bye.
Rating: 5 stars
In the city state of Camorr, a small group known as the Gentlemen Bastards work and plot and scheme to lure the valuables from gullible nobles. Their cons are always elaborate and intricate, and done in such a way that their victims are too embarrassed to tell anyone about it. Yet most of their peers in the criminal underworld of Camorr believe the Bastards to be petty thieves and pickpockets, nothing remarkable, but loyal and dependable in a fight.
Unfortunately for Locke Lamora, the leader of the little band, and his friends, their current victims start being suspicious of some of the stories they are told, and soon, the head of the secret police is preparing to finally catch the legendary bandit. As if that wasn't bad enough, someone else has discovered that Locke and his Gentlemen are much more successful criminals than they let on, and use this information to force Locke to help with an attempted power play against the current crime lord of Camorr, Capa Barsavi.
I first read The Lies of Locke Lamora over Easter in 2007, and was absolutely blown away by it. It was such a different take on what I believed epic fantasy must be like. Locke and his compatriots were such unashamed scoundrels, and had so much fun with their schemes. I've seen a lot of comparisons being made to Ocean's Eleven, and it's not difficult to see why. This is a heist book, and the gang believe themselves to be so much more clever than everyone around them. It makes it even more thrilling when it turns out that they are wrong, and someone may have outsmarted them. They may be in a whole heap of trouble, in fact. I read fast, with bated breath, to see how the story would be resolved.
Because it's been more than six years since I read the book, I'd forgotten a LOT of the intricate plotting. I'd forgotten the way Scott Lynch has with words and his wonderful world building. The descriptions of the city of Camorr, both its underworld and the wealthy areas. I remembered the camaraderie between Locke and his friends, and that their plans went a bit pear-shaped, but I hadn't remembered much of the details, and that made this re-read extra enjoyable. It's such a fun book, with twists and turns and genuine shocking moments. Some of it made me cry, some of it made me cheer, and bits made me almost queasy (Lynch doesn't shy away from his graphic description on occasion). The story of how Locke became a Gentleman Bastard and met his gang of thieves is told in flash back, in between the chapters with the main narrative. Yet Lynch has a way of showing how the early experiences made by our hero and his friends became useful learning for their present troubles, which means that both narratives are connected, and you never feel too annoyed at being taken away from something tense and dramatic in the present to read about things that happened long ago. I'm not doing a very good job of selling why this is an awesome book. If you like epic fantasy, just read it.
Monday, 9 December 2013
#CBR5 Book 140. "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem and Other Things That Happened" by Allie Brosh
Rating: 5 stars
I knew I was going to love this book when I pre-ordered it several months ago. There was absolutely no question about it. There is barely a single thing Allie Brosh has ever posted on her website that I haven't absolutely adored (oh, the hours of my life that site stole when I first discovered it, thanks to a colleague telling me about the Alot.) Even when Allie didn't update as often any more, it was always a delight when there was something new. So many of the things she wrote about made it feel like she saw the world in exactly the same way I do. We both fear spiders, we both love procrastination on the internet, we both have a mentally challenged animal (one of my cats is a very dim light bulb indeed). Then she wrote about her depression, and it became clear why she wasn't updating her blog very often.
Her two blog entries about depression (both shared in this book as well as on her website) are among the truest and most recognisable things I have ever read. I was depressed during my final year of university, but after years of medication, seem to have had the luck of getting well again. I've experienced some of the things she shares in her stories. I can now show other people what it's like to live with my husband when he's having one of his rough spells, which he will keep having on and off for the rest of our lives, because he's never going to not be depressed, he's just going to be able to cope with it better during the stable periods. I've never met Allie, but I love her for this.
About half of the stuff in the book has already been on Allie's blog. I love her writing, so this was not a problem for me at all. There is also half a book full of new and amazing material, like her letters to her past selves, that had me laughing so hard my stomach hurt and I had trouble breathing. I have ordered the book as a Christmas present for several of my friends, and I wish I knew more people, just so I could gift them this book. It's a hilarious and wonderful book, which you will enjoy if you've enjoyed the stuff on her site. Just buy it already, to make sure she writes a follow-up. After all, I want the Alot in book form too.
Rating: 4 stars
Briony Asquith and Leo Marsden grew up on neighbouring estates. Leo loved Briony long before she was even aware of him as anything but the baby Marsden, youngest of four brothers. So when the brilliant, yet socially awkward lady physician proposed to outgoing, talented renaissance man Leo, he was elated, but no one else in society thought it would last. And it didn't. Growing increasingly more distant and cold from their wedding day, Briony starts to actually recoil from Leo's touch, and no matter how he tries to get her to open up, physically and emotionally, their marriage seems doomed. When Briony wakes up one morning with a stark white stripe through her dark hair, she files for an annulment.
Three years later, Leo shows up at Briony's medical clinic in a remote corner of India. Briony's sister has been writing both of them for years with melodramatic stories trying to push the two back together, but this time he's fairly certain she's not lying about Briony's father's health being in danger. Much of India is at the the brink of rebellion, and he feels it's his duty to get Briony back to England safely. Leo doesn't know exactly why their marriage failed, but he's convinced it must have been his fault, that he failed or mistreated her in some way.
Briony is not convinced her sister isn't lying once again, but she also knows that she would never forgive herself if her father dies and she did not try to return to his bedside. She reluctantly goes with Leo, uncomfortable in his presence, but with no other choice of escort. As the couple make their way through the rough Indian countryside, dealing with first Leo's malaria, then a violent and bloody native rebellion as they seek refuge in a nearby fort, they find that the three years apart may have allowed both of them to heal some of their hurts, and open up lines of communication to the other. Can they finally talk about all the things that made their all too brief marriage so miserable, and maybe begin to forgive each other and themselves?
Romances are mostly all about escapism, and the process of falling in love, and we rarely see past the HEA, or Happy For Now. Because of a shocking discovery, Briony was completely unable to trust Leo and started drawing away from him, beginning on the day of their marriage. They never got to Happily Ever After, their marriage just went from bad to worse to impossible to continue. Clearly always an intensely private and introverted person, Briony has difficulties forming attachments, even within her own family. Leo accepted her marriage proposal happily, but didn't really know the woman he married, just the idealised idea he'd made of her. As is the case in a lot of romances, there is a marked lack of clear communication between the heroine and hero, but in Not Quite a Husband it would never have been possible for Briony and Leo to have the honest conversations they needed to have to resolve their marital difficulties at the point where their marriage fell apart. Unlike in some books, where you just want to shake the protagonists and make them have a single conversation that would resolve everything, here there is no such easy fix.
Three years have given both of them time, to change and grow as people and while they may not have wanted to, to consider and gain some perspective of why they never managed to make their brief marriage successful. Both have travelled the world, hearing fanciful stories about what the other was up to from Briony's younger sister. Leo just wants to atone for whatever he must have done wrong to make Briony hate him so much in the past. Spending days in his presence, some of it nursing him back to health, Briony realises that the discovery she made shortly before she married him, no longer hurts her, and she no longer recoils from his touch. In fact, she craves it. The danger they find themselves in force them to finally be honest with one another, and they find a new and unaccustomed closeness, that should have been their when they wed.
This book is so good because it takes so many of the romance conventions and twists them. As in many of Thomas' other books, there is so much bitterness and pain between the couple. They have such enormous power to hurt the one they love, and frequently do. It's not an easy book to read, but as Leo and Briony start to actually open up to each other, instead of lashing out, and work to heal the damage they've previously done to one another, it feels more emotionally powerful than that of a lot of frothy romances with meet-cutes and humorous banter and a shiny fantasy version of what life really is. Most romance couples don't actually have to struggle with marital difficulties and really work to save their relationships. Yet when Briony and Leo finally do solve their troubles, they've truly earned their happiness, and it's probably more real because of their hardships.
Monday, 18 November 2013
Rating: 4 stars
Lord and Lady Tremaine have the ideal marriage, according to society. Having lived apart, on separate continents, for the the last decade since their wedding, they are nonetheless all that is elegant and courteous in relation to each other. Until Lady Tremaine shocks everyone, not least her own husband, by asking for a divorce, so she can marry someone else.
Philippa "Gigi" Rowland was the wealthy only child of an industrialist, with a deeply ambitious mother determined that her only daughter end up a duchess. When Gigi's noble, yet penniless fiancee (a duke) dies two weeks before the wedding, all their dreams seem crushed, as the duke's handsome cousin, now a marquess (his father inherits the dukedom) is promised to another. Gigi still refuses give up on Camden Saybrook, manipulating and scheming to get him to marry her. Her plots are revealed the day after their wedding, and Cameron, who'd been a very happy bridegroom, leaves her in disgust.
Mostly the couple live entirely separate lives, their paths crossing only very occasionally. Mrs. Rowland, Gigi's mother, has never been happy about the couple's estrangement and has been sending letters to Camden in America with frequent updates about his wife's whereabouts and goings on. Both have clearly had lovers in the last decade, so it's extra shocking that Gigi petitions for divorce on the grounds of Cameron's infidelity. Cameron returns to London to confront his wife, and realises that he's not ready to let her go. He declares that he will only agree to the divorce once Gigi provides him with an heir. Gigi, while initially appalled, agrees, but keeps the truth of their arrangement from her fiancee, the young Lord Frederick.
Private Arrangements is Thomas' first novel and it was a huge success. I'm not surprised, as she does a lot of things that are unusual for romances, not least tell the story in a non-linear fashion, with half the book taking place in the present, where Gigi and Camden can barely stand to be in the same room as each other, and the other showing us the way they met and fell in love, as well as the complicated plot Gigi set in motion to snag herself a noble husband. It's quite obvious that while they may not like each other all that much, they are still attracted to each other. It also wouldn't be a romance if Gigi actually got granted her divorce and ended up with the oh so nice, but not very exciting Lord Frederick.
Gigi and Camden are also not instantly likable characters. You understand Camden's fury with her, but it also becomes clear that before he left her for good, he gave as good as he got to make Gigi suffer for her scheming. They make each other suffer horribly, and should probably both have been more forgiving and open to communication. Still, because they're so wounded and stubborn and clearly loved each other once, it becomes all the more compelling to see how they'll work through their differences and end up happy together. I'd forgotten just how painful some of the book is, though, and how vicious the couple are to each other. If you're looking for a fun and light read, this is not the romance for you. It's a stunning debut, though.
Sunday, 17 November 2013
Rating: 4.5 stars
Felix Rivendale, the Marquess of Wrenworth is known in society as "the Ideal Gentleman". He is handsome, wealthy, charming, generous and famous for his lavish hospitality. Men want to be him, or at least his good friend, and it goes without saying that he's the most eligible bachelor on the market. He's clearly not a virgin, but there is not a whiff of scandal surrounding him, either. Few, if any, suspect that his cheerful and impeccable demeanour is a clearly constructed facade. Having been used as a pawn in the emotional warfare his parents conducted against each other, he's become deeply distrustful of strong emotions, and a master at manipulating those around them so subtly that they believe his suggestions are their own.
Miss Louisa Cantwell is the daughter of a country baron and and one of five sisters, none of whom are likely to snag the wealthy husband needed to secure the family's fortunes. She is neither particularly financially or physically desirable as a bride, but is also fully aware of it, and has worked tirelessly for the last eight years to plan her perfect season. Using every trick in the book, including bust improvers to make it look as if nature gave her a generous bosom, she's determined to find a husband by the end of the season, preferably not one who's too disagreeable. She's found two likely candidates, and uses every chance she gets to cultivate them and their relatives. She wouldn't dream of setting her sights on Lord Wrenworth, and is rather appalled with herself when they finally meet and she's both overwhelmed with lust for him, while at the same time convinced that he's a scoundrel, who can see right through all her. She's wondering why no one else suspects that he's not entirely as he seems.
Because she has absolutely no illusions about securing Wrenworth's affections, Louisa proceeds to be completely honest with him about her attraction. Felix finds it both intriguing and novel that this young woman clearly isn't taken in by "the Ideal Gentleman", and seems to actually dislike him, yet also confesses to erotic dreams about him. Since she sees what no one else sees, he can be shockingly forthright with her, and proposes to make her his mistress. Louisa somewhat reluctantly dismisses him, knowing full well that as a nobleman's lover she will never have the security she craves. Of course, not one to take no for an answer, Felix goes about eliminating her potential suitors, hoping that if she has no marriage prospects, she'll relent by the end of the season. Once he realises she's rather marry a butcher than become his mistress, he has to reevaluate his plans, and makes her his wife instead.
Louisa is a sensible and pragmatic young lady. She's considered all her other sisters, one is a recluse, one appears to be a lesbian, one is an epileptic and the last is "of completely the wrong temperament for the wooing of gentlemen". Their family are not exactly poor, their mother has a pension as long as she lives, but once she dies, the sisters are entirely on their own. She's deeply ambivalent about her feelings for Felix. On the one hand, she's infatuated with him and clearly desires him, on the other, she doesn't trust him for a second, and is uncertain about his motives for actually marrying her, rather than just holding out until she said yes to becoming his mistress. She has no illusions about the marriages of the upper classes, but figures that as long as she's enthusiastic and open for most things in the marriage bed, she might prevent her husband from straying, but she has no expectations of his love.
Felix is scared by the passionate desire he feels for his new wife. In his experience, love makes you weak and vulnerable and he tries to keep himself away from her as much as possible after their wedding night. He can't bear to hurt her for too long though, and soon her continued distrust starts to upset him. He knows that he manipulated her into marriage, and becomes terrified that he will lose her, or that his own marriage will become like that of his parents. "The Ideal Gentleman", who had no time for love needs to win the trust, love and devotion of his own wife.
Sherry Thomas' romances don't work for everyone. While a lot of the genre is frothy, light and diverting, perfect for cheering you up and giving you a much needed escape from your everyday cares, Thomas tends to focus on emotionally messed up protagonists who are often deeply unhappy, with themselves and each other, before they work through their angsty difficulties and start moving towards a happier future. The narratives of her books are frequently non-linear, moving back and forth between the past and the present. The Luckiest Lady in London is about intelligent, distrustful people who end up married to each other, gradually falling in love. There are no flashbacks, the story is chronological, with Felix' unhappy childhood revealed in the prologue.
Thomas has admitted that this novel is inspired by Loretta Chase's Lord of Scoundrels, which is so popular it's been number one on All About Romance's Top 100 Romances for at least the last 13 years (in 1998, the first poll listed, it was in shared fifth place). In it, the Marquess of Dain have parents in an unhappy marriage, his mother abandons him and his father is emotionally cold, so he tries his best to be as provoking as possible. He decides to become the most shocking and provoking hellion around, until formidable spinster Jessica (in my top five heroines ever) comes along and changes his life. Wrenworth (who actually appears or is mentioned in every single preceding Thomas romance, so this is sort of a prequel to them) has the same miserable childhood. His mother was pressured into marrying his father, who adored her. She loved another, and tortured Felix' father by strongly implying that his son was illegitimate. She doted on Felix, but only when someone could see it, otherwise both his parents had no time or affection for him. Learning quickly to distrust love, and managing without it, Felix decides to go in a different direction from Dain. He becomes "the Ideal Gentleman", universally irreproachable, adored by everyone. While Dain thrives on the shock and disgust of the ton, Wrenworth needs their adulation, while pretending to scorn it.
It's obvious that Felix becomes a victim of his own success. He clearly wishes that someone see through his perfectly crafted persona, and call him on his machinations, but until Louisa comes along, no one does. The fact that she not only sees the person he's trying to hide, but seems to like him, even when he's a scoundrel. His parents' loveless marriage convinced him that he was better without love, but when his own marriage is in danger of becoming as cold and barren, he realises he has to change before it's too late.
While parts of this novel has some of the trademark Thomas angst and upheaval, it's a lot more fun and light-hearted than her previous books. There's some amazing banter between Felix and Louisa, and he's such an awful, unapologetic schemer that you can't help but like him, even as you can't wait to see him brought to his knees. It's also incredibly refreshing to have a heroine, though a properly brought up virgin when she marries, is unashamed of her desires and curiosity about sex, even before she marries. All of these things make this my new favourite of her novels (AND I rate it higher than Lord of Scoundrels - gasp!)
Rating: 5 stars
I try not to resort to book blurbs to summarise the books for my reviews, but sometimes, they're bloody hard to do without some help. Hence:
No one creates realms like New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop. Now in a thrilling new fantasy series, enter a world inhabited by the Others, unearthly entities - vampires and shape-shifters among them - who rule the Earth and whose prey are humans.
As a "cassandra sangue", or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut - a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg's Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard - a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liason job. First, he senses that she is keeping a secret, and second, she doesn't smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she's wanted by the government, he'll have to decide if she's worth the fight between the humans and Others that will surely follow.
I hadn't actually read the blurb when I started the book, and was therefore extremely pleasantly surprised by the world building presented in the introduction. The Others, or the terra indigine are the original inhabitants of Earth. They are vampires, and shape-shifters of all manner of varieties. There are elemental spirits, and ancient terrifying things that go bump in the night. The humans originated in this world's version of Europe, and as they started exploring new parts of the world, discovering that there were a lot of things out there with teeth and claws who would considered them prey. In Thaisia, this world's version of America, the humans eventually managed to settle enough people to make safer settlements. The humans are clever and inventive, but the Others control all the natural resources they need to make their new inventions work. In the more heavily populated human areas, there is usually an uneasy truce between the Others and the humans. In every large city, there has to be an Others-controlled Courtyard, where the Others operate the businesses and keep an eye on the humans, making sure they don't get any ideas above themselves.
The Lakeside Courtyard, where Simon Wolfgard (guess what he turns into) is the leader, is probably the most progressive of all of Thaisia's Others-controlled areas. The Others in the Lakeside Courtyard even have human employees and generally seem pretty tolerant, but if the local humans forget themselves and trespass, they are still ruthlessly eaten. Meg comes stumbling into the Courtyard in the middle of a fierce snowstorm, nearly frozen to death. Just the fact that she's poorly dressed for the elements and seems so unafraid of the Others, intrigues Simon and the other terra indigine of Lakeside. They always have to have a Human Liaison, who does just what it sounds like, liaises between the Others and their peculiar and often a bit hostile ways, and the humans who deliver post, services and goods to the Courtyard. Meg, knowing that no expense will be spared to recapture her, is relieved to be in an area where human laws don't apply, and big, fierce shape-shifters and bloodsuckers will eat anyone who tries to trespass.
Meg is wary among the Others, but a lot more terrified of being taken back to the compound where she was held captive. She and her fellow blood prophets (always female, it seems) are locked up and every aspect of their lives are controlled. They're told when and what to eat, how much to exercise. As long as they co-operate, they are pampered, but they can also be brutally punished for disobedience. Every inch of their skin is a valuable commodity, as every cut yields an absolutely true prophecy, which can be triggered by a specific focus. Hence the Controllers sell the predictions, and the girls are discarded when they no longer have skin left to cut. The girls are taught about the outside world through pictures and films, and occasionally given misinformation as well, to test their prophetic abilities. It's clear that Meg vaguely remembers a time before she was taken to the compound, and given a number rather than her name, so it's clear that girls suspected of her "gift" may just be seized when their prophetic abilities manifest. Because the girls are driven to cut themselves to get the prophecies out, no matter what, and sometimes they end up hurting themselves if not controlled, the government has decreed that all cassandra sangues are to live under the "benevolent ownership" of state-approved Controllers. They have no legal rights of their own, and are as such, slaves to their masters.
"The Meg" as she is called by the inhabitants of the Lakeside Courtyard is a fascinating character. She could easily have been seen as a Mary Sue, because every new thing she sets out to do, she seems to manage admirably almost immediately, and pretty much everyone seems to love her within minutes of meeting her. Yet it's also clear that the blood prophets aren't entirely like normal humans. They're not entirely Other, but there is a reason that Meg doesn't smell like prey to the shape-shifters, and that her "sweet blood" is deemed off limits to the vampires. In addition, because Meg knows that she needs to stay in the Others' good graces, so she's not eaten, or worse, left to fend for herself against the Controllers' men who are looking for her, she tries her best to be open-minded, polite, efficient and agreeable. Because she has so little practical experience in the real world, she frequently struggles with fairly mundane tasks, and the various species of Others find her very amusing to watch. She's also not been brought up with the prejudices towards Others that most humans have. While she forces herself to be cheerful and useful around the Courtyard, she's clearly both afraid and annoyed by Simon, and the fact that the two of the grate so much on each other is clearly a sign that in future books they are meant to be. There's a little bit of romantic tension in the book, but anyone looking for paranormal romance or lots of kissing and shape-shifter/vampire smexy times, will be very disappointed.
I already mentioned that the world building does something completely new to me in paranormal/urban fantasy. The idea that the supernatural creatures are not the minorities that have to hide their true selves from most humans, or "come out" as part of the story, but are in fact the dominant species, cause let's face it, they are bigger, faster and stronger and humans are just clever meat to them, is awesome. It's such a nice twist on what you normally find, and had me intrigued from the very first page. That the various supernatural inhabitants in the Lakeside Courtyard are all well developed, with a number of interesting and complex characters in the community making the story not just about Meg and Simon. There's just as much diversity among the human characters. Some are selfish and prejudiced and anti-Others, and some are determined to make sure they leave in harmony with them, avoiding pissing them off to the point where they just exterminate the human settlements.
I've complained before that with a lot of the genre, you have to read a couple of books before the world is fully established, you really get a feel for the characters, and the stories really get going. This is not the case here. Bishop skilfully hooks you into her world, she makes you care deeply about her characters, and she introduces enough complications and plot momentum that you are never bored. I kept expecting the book to lose me, it couldn't possibly be quite so perfect all the way through, but this really is a great start to a new series. I couldn't really find niggles. The main plot of the book is also tied up, so it can be read as a stand alone, but there is a lot of tension set up between the humans and the Others that will clearly become important later in the series. I'm also glad I waited this long to read the book, as it means the next one is out in March 2014, making the wait for the next one less painful. If you like paranormals, but are a bit bored with the sameyness of the genre - do yourself a favour - read this book.