Meg Corbyn has escaped from the man who’s been using her prophetic abilities for his own profit. Meg has never been in the outside world — she’s been institutionalized since she was a child — and she has no idea how to take care of herself. The only place where she might successfully hide from her owner is in the Courtyard of the Others, a race of dangerous shapeshifters who are much more animal than human. Meg applies for the Others’ job opening as a liaison to the humans. She has no skills, but she’s determined to prove herself worthy.
Though he has very little experience with humans, Meg’s new boss Simon Wolfgard (a wolf who transforms into a human, even though he hates being in that body) realizes there’s something different about Meg. She seems so innocent and naïve. When he and the rest of the Others discover that Meg is being hunted, they reverse their previous policy of not interfering in human affairs so they can protect her.
I didn’t read the publisher’s blurb for Written in Red before reading the book and that’s the only reason I can give it as much as 2.5 stars. The only interesting part of the story for me was the mystery of who Meg is and why she’s so valuable. Unfortunately, all of this is given away in the blurb. Other than this mystery, most of the plot focuses on Meg learning to live outside the institution that’s been her home for as long as she can remember.
Her “liaison” job is not what you’d think. Basically she’s a mailroom clerk. She accepts packages that human deliverymen bring to the Courtyard for the Others. Some of this is sweet and entertaining, such as when she makes friends with ponies (who are really elemental spirits) and gets them to deliver packages for her, but most of it is just plain boring. She gets a notebook and records the deliveries. She sorts the mail. She cleans the office. Outside of work, she’s figuring out how to do laundry and use the microwave. Most of the plot involves Meg learning and performing these mundane tasks. It’s sweet, but dull. The liaison job should have been a lot more interesting.
The aspects of Meg’s personality that make her an unusual protagonist were, unfortunately, the things I didn’t like about her. Her simple-mindedness and naïveté make her a dullard. She is probably the dullest protagonist I’ve ever met in a book. Her addiction to cutting herself, which is related to her prophetic abilities, was, for me, extremely unpleasant. I’m sure that many readers will love Meg’s sweetness and sympathize with her, but I just didn’t like anything about her. Anything. I also didn’t like Simon Wolfgard, the wolf-human shapeshifter who is obviously being set up as Meg’s love interest for future books in the series. I can tell he’s going to be one of those growling aggressive males who have to protect and boss around the dumb weak woman. He keeps snarling and calling her a “stupid female.” I hate that.
There were a couple of characters I did like, though, most notably a cop who’s new in town and takes an interest in Meg’s welfare and is concerned about tensions between humans and the Others. These tensions rise as the story goes on and it’s seems like war may be imminent. A lot of the tension involves the Others’ desire to protect Meg. For such aggressive animals/people (they are constantly calling humans “meat” and threatening to eat them), it’s not really clear why they think Meg’s so awesome and worthy to fight for. All she does is deliver mail.
I had a hard time believing in Anne Bishop’s world. In this alternate United States, which looks much different than ours, the Others have always been dominant. Because humans make cool inventions, the Others allow them to live in and rule most of the country while the Others are relegated to special “Courtyards” where human law does not apply. Power is evened out a bit because the Others shun human weapons, so the Others can be killed by guns or bombs. The relationship between Others and humans doesn’t ring true. The Others say they view humans as “monkeys” and “meat,” but they don’t eat them all because they like the inventions they make. They shun or are uninformed about much of human technology while using other inventions. What they shun or use seems arbitrary. Also, I’m still wondering why the Others, who prefer their wild animal lifestyles, even bother to spend time in the human bodies they hate. And why do they need a human mail clerk? Ostensibly it’s because the deliverymen are afraid of the Others, yet there are several Others in the story who could have taken over this job. They don’t do anything else all day.
Finally at the very end of Written in Red, stuff starts happening. This is too little too late, but it bodes well for future installments and, since Penguin Audio has already sent me book two, Murder of Crows, I’ll give it a try. The audio version is 18.5 hours long. Alexandra Harris does pretty well with the narration. I’m not crazy about her voice for Simon, and her voice and intonation for Meg really brings out Meg’s naiveté (which was an issue for me), but this didn’t interfere with the story.
One final thing: Written in Red gets very high marks (4.5 stars) at Amazon, Audible and Goodreads. I’m baffled about that, but it does indicate that your experience may differ. If you decide to read it, please let me know what you think.