Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 5 to 9, 2019
Not good and yet I’m looking forward to the next book. It’s complicated… not this series, but the reason I’m drawn to it and keep on returning to it even though it just isn’t good.
More on this later, when I sort it out.
* * * * *
Now that I’ve had a few days to sort it out, I’ve come to the conclusion that my attachment to these books is quite simple, really. I only like one thing and that one thing is karmic retribution, and this series has it in strides. By the end of each book, you are guaranteed a bloody, satisfying ending in which decency comes out on top and evil doers get what they deserve–eaten, as nature and the universe intended. Many of them die in horrific ways and all of them are satisfying on a very basic level.
There are no complexities here. You never have to worry about nuance or depth or lack of depth or shades of gray or moral ambiguity or finding yourself in a tough spot when you’re reading. You’re relieved of the burden of having to figure out where you stand on questionable things because “good” and “evil” are clear cut and defined in ways that leave no room for discussion. If one happens to get eaten by nature, then one definitely had it coming because nature is never wrong. Simple as that.
That’s too basic for what I normally like in my fiction, but I put up with it here because the ways in which the revenge-by-nature or nature-with-a-vengeance arc is played out is so satisfying. It fills a void that other, better written, more dubious fiction don’t or can’t.
I mean, where in fiction do violent, openly racist (specie-ist?) characters consistently get what they deserve (eaten)?
The moment a shady character shows up on the page causing trouble, you know that character will suffer and die by the end of the book. It’s only a matter of how and how bloody it will be. Mauled by wolves? Mauled by bears? Mauled by panthers? Drained by vampires, pecked by crows, harvested by a harvestor or–everyone’s personal favorite–torn to pieces by an elder and left for scavengers?
However they die, they die for good. It’s kind of ghoulish, but in a fun way.
I made the mistake of calling this series “cozy” and a friend read Written in Red (#1) on my recommendation thinking it’s an actual cozy like a cozy mystery. She came back, just kind of stared at me, and then said, “I don’t think you know what ‘cozy’ means.”
Me: *scoffing* “Of course I do.” [I didn’t, apparently.]
Bewildered friend: “People get ripped apart and eaten in this book. In just the first few chapters!”
Me: “And they deserved it.” *failing to see what the issue was here*
BF: “That’s not cozy. That’s not what cozy is.”
Me: *narrowing eyes* “But it should be, yeah?”
And then the discussion veered off into what was and wasn’t cozy and how I should read actual cozies to see what they’re like.
Me: “Do bad people get devoured in cozy books?”
Me: “Then they’re not very cozy, are they?”
BF: *showing signs of mental hair pulling*
I did end up trying a few categorically cozy mysteries to see what they’re like as the friend requested. And? They’re fine, just not for me. Too tamed and not enough wholesale devouring for my taste (puns maybe intended).
This series is kind of difficult to sum up using existing paranormal books and series as examples or descriptions because it’s in a class of its own. However, if you’ve read one book, you’ve pretty much read them all.
* * * * *
Okay, now onto this book.
It takes place in the town of Bennett, where a wolf pack was massacred in by humans in an attempted land grab and where the apocalypse officially “kicked off.” The story opens after the apocalyptic events of Marked in Flesh (#4) and the timeline runs parallel to Etched in Bone (#5). It runs up to Meg’s kidnapping and recovery and then breaks off to deal with trouble brewing within the town.
Bennett is right in the middle of the wild county. There’s a small farming village close by, but the land is extremely isolated from the rest of the human population and the elders live just on the other side of the invisible border. A group of sanguinati led by Tolya and two wolves, Virgil and Kane who are the only survivors of the slain pack, take on the difficult task of resettling the town by gradually letting select humans come in to work for them.
Most of the people they let in are skilled, hardworking people who really need the jobs and a fresh start. But then there’s the Blackstone clan who are a family of intuit swindlers and grifters; they’re looking for a fresh start as well, but they’re not inclined to share the town. They head to Bennett thinking they could case the area and then push out the Others for control of the town, with the idea of turning it into a paradise for more people like them.
Things… don’t go as planned. Lots of people and Others are killed. The ending is a bloodbath, literally, though not as intense as the ones in previous books. The plotting could have been tighter to ratchet up the tension, about 200 pages could have been cut to quicken the pace, and a couple of the minor character-centric subplots could have been discarded to keep the focus on the action leading up to the showdown between the Blackstones and the Others.
Some familiar characters are back: Jesse Walker and her son Tobias, both intuits from the farming village; Barbara Ellen, assistant vet and Micheal Debaney’s sister; John Wolfgard from the Lakeside bookstore.
Lots of new characters are introduced: Jana, the first and only female cop in this whole world (no joke); Abigail, another intuit who can “read” gemstones and a former Blackstone; Joshua Painter, an orphan raised by panthers; Saul Panthergard, one of Joshua’s adoptive relatives; the Gott family; the Hua-Stone family; Scythe, a harvestor (like Tess).
This is the first book in which we get a sex scene between a human and an Other (sanguinati). The pairing is an interesting one. The characters have a working relationship prior to getting together, and much to my surprise, there’s no awkwardness between them afterward.
This is also the first book in which we get to see a same-sex relationship. It’s never been mentioned before, not even briefly, so I just thought it was the author’s choice to not take on subject matter she wasn’t comfortable writing. But here in this book, we see a gay couple who have adopted 4 children, 3 Others and a blood prophet (unbeknownst to them), and are looking to start a new life together in the wild country, far away from judgmental humans. (Yes… even in the post-apocalypse… *long suffering sigh*)
What’s interesting about this development is it’s some of the humans, not the Others, who take issue with same-sex relationships, although they don’t voice their objection as Bennett is an Other-controlled town. The Others are actually fine with the 2 dads and their 4 kids. They only make a fuss at first because one of the kids is a young, untrained blood prophet and they thought the couple stole the kids.
Another first for the series is having a minor character with Down Syndrome, but since she’s not a POV character (yet?), we only get to read about what the main characters think and say about her. Once they make the connection between her and Skippy (back at Meg’s office in Lakeside), the Wolves look after her as one of their own.
One last first for the series: first female cop. Jana is the first woman to graduate from the police academy and become the first female police officer ever, but she can’t get hired in any human-controlled areas because, you know, sexism and misogyny. She has to go all the way out to the wild country if she wants a job. This is a world that’s vaguely technologically advanced–there are cell phones and internet–and yet Jana is the first woman to become a cop in the history of humanity. (*long suffering sigh to the power of infinity*)
And that pretty much wraps up this book.