BEA'S BOOK NOOK "I can't imagine a man really enjoying a book and reading it only once." C. S. Lewis “If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.” ― Oscar Wilde

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Group Review of Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

Publisher: Roc
Series: The Others #2
Format Read: Hardcover
Source: the publisher in exchange for an honest review
Release Date: March 4, 2014
Buying Links: Amazon* | Book Depository* | Barnes & Noble
* affiliate links; the blog receives a small commission from purchases made through these links.

Blurb from goodreads:

Return to New York Times bestselling author Anne Bishop’s "phenomenal" (Urban Fantasy Investigations) world of the Others — where supernatural entities and humans struggle to co-exist, and one woman has begun to change all the rules…. 
After winning the trust of the terra indigene residing in the Lakeside Courtyard, Meg Corbyn has had trouble figuring out what it means to live among them. As a human, Meg should be barely tolerated prey, but her abilities as a cassandra sangue make her something more.


The appearance of two addictive drugs has sparked violence between the humans and the Others, resulting in the murder of both species in nearby cities. So when Meg has a dream about blood and black feathers in the snow, Simon Wolfgard — Lakeside’s shape-shifting leader — wonders if their blood prophet dreamed of a past attack or a future threat.

As the urge to speak prophecies strikes Meg more frequently, trouble finds its way inside the Courtyard. Now, the Others and the handful of humans residing there must work together to stop the man bent on reclaiming their blood prophet—and stop the danger that threatens to destroy them all.  

Our Thoughts:

Today I'm joined by Nifty and Cerulean. Nifty did a guest review a few years ago while Cerulean is new to the blog. They've been Bishop fans for years and both love this series. It was Nifty who sent me a copy of Written In Red a few weeks ago (Thanks Nifty!). When I received Murder in the mail, Nifty and I talked about doing a review together and then asked Cerulean to join us. After I read the book, I mailed it to Nifty who then passed it on to Cerulean. It's a well-traveled book. :D



Nifty:

The biggest thing I noticed about Murder of Crows -- compared to Written in Red -- is that this book seemed more plot-driven, with more external conflict. Written in Red had seemed to focus largely (although not exclusively) on developing the characters and establishing Meg’s relationships/connections with the residents of the Lakeside Courtyard. I have to say that in Murder of Crows, I found almost none of that, which was something of a disappointment for me. I especially found myself missing a lot of the characters I had met in the previous book: this book has barely any scenes with Sam, Jake, Jester, the ponies/steeds, or Winter.  

Several new characters are introduced, but we didn’t necessarily get to know them well, and there’s no real relationship developed between them and Meg. Some of them (the Intuits) serve the purpose of explaining more about Meg’s roots...the origins of the cassandra sangue.  Some of them (the new terra indigene) illuminate the potential for and obstacles to the peaceful integration of the cassandra sangue into the earth natives’ populations.

That’s something Bea and I had talked a lot about prior to my reading the book. I speculated that the cassandra sangue were not entirely human, that perhaps they existed as a sort of in-between species:  not quite human, not quite terra indigene. And in fact this book touched on some of those points, elaborating in a way I found satisfying, even though I want to know more. (And there IS a third book coming, so I expect we will learn more.)  

The mystery of Meg’s “sweet blood” -- both wondrous and terrible -- was also explained to my satisfaction, and the revelation also had elements of Bishop’s trademark horror. (Bishop is mainly a writer of fantasy -- not urban fantasy -- and every series of hers I have read has had some truly horrific elements.)

Another Bishop trademark that was evident in this book -- and in the last one, as well -- is a pro-environmentalism and living harmoniously with the planet. The Black Jewels series, especially the Cassidy duology, highlights this as well.  We saw bits of it in the previous book, with its mention of recycling catalogues and the use of reusable carry-sacks, etc., but we see even more of it in this book, especially in the description of the Intuit village. 

Simon and Meg….  The relationship is progressing slowly, which seems authentic for Meg’s character. Meg is very innocent. I also think she’s damaged. So it’s important for things between her and Simon to develop slowly. Nevertheless, the Meg/Simon dynamic in Murder of Crowswas just ever-so-slightly disappointing to me.I wanted a bit more momentum. 

Written in Red was my favorite read of 2013 – a strong A rating. While I enjoyed Murder of Crows very much, I would rate this one a B. I was pleased to see the development of the worldbuilding and life on Thasia outside the Lakeside Courtyard, but I also thought that all those outward-driving plot elements came at the expense of the relationships and characterization.

Cerulean: Because one of my favorite parts about Written in Redwas Meg's internal dialogue and her interactions with the Courtyard residents, I was at first disappointed because this content was light in Murder of Crows. I wanted more Meg. Then I realized that the changes that Meg goes through to realize her independence and life away from the Controller were mostly realized in the last book. Murder of Crows raises the stakes in that the crisis is outward, not inward. Written in Red was the story of Meg’s internal journey of becoming a person outside of the rigid environment set by the Controller.  We were along for her journey of finding herself and for the earth natives/terra indigene realizing that not all humans are the same. With every seemingly mundane interaction, Bishop shows (and doesn't tell) exactly how much the humans and earth natives don't understand each other. That lack of understanding leads to tension, conflict, and the threat of potential war. In Written in Red, Simon says that the earth natives "aren't furry humans who want to be loved." They are NOT human and they aren't fully animals; they are a species who has learned to take on the physical form of both. If anything, they are closer to their animal forms than to humans.

In Murder of Crows, the humans react against the earth natives and the consequences of the Controller's plan to reacquire Meg and to overthrow the earth natives. The Others are the dominant species on the planet for a reason, yet the humans have lost sight of why they are the relatively new species on the block and they're pushing back hard for dominance. The situation reminds me of Native Americans on reservations surrounded by White people, with the situation flipped in that the humans are in the indigenous group (terra indigene, anyone?) and the Others/earth natives are in the dominant position. Yet in this case, the humans are in the historically minority and powerless position, yet have the dominant White demands for more land and power. In this world, the earth natives maintain harmony with the natural resources of the planet and are custodians of Thasia (the US) and force the humans to gather in territory comparable to reservations overseen by the earth natives. It's a very interesting and thoughtful flip for history and urban fantasy.  

I love the way Bishop uses everyday moments to show the otherness of The Others, as in one simple interaction during a planning session where all the humans take out notebooks and pencils and the Others are upset/angry. Apparently even though many of the earth natives are educated in some human universities, the humans always leave something out so that the earth natives will look stupid and make the humans feel superior in their civilized world. It's amazing that the two groups have coexisted for so long. In fact, we learn that there have always been tensions, like The Drowned City mentioned in Written in Red.

Murder of Crows expands the universe to new characters. It was a bit confusing at first because Bishop slowly incorporates them into the world of the Courtyard. We don't see much of some characters like Sam and Jake, which was definitely noticeable (and missed). Each new character and familiar characters whose perspectives are expanded in this book all weave a story of how everyone sees and interprets everyone else's actions. I do wish Bishop had integrated some of these characters more into the Courtyard and provided more detail. I assume some of that will happen in book 3, but it would have made for a richer tapestry to do so here. But that's a bit like complaining there's no cherry on top of my hot fudge sundae. Here is where it is evident that the action-based plot is strengthened and the world outside of the Courtyard is expanded, but somewhat at the expense of characterization. 

Another thing I love is that Bishop doesn't make things easy for us. There are definitely moral ambiguities. While it's nice to think that cassandra sangues can be just like "normal" people and live without restrictions, Bishop shows us that's not necessarily the case. What seems like the most moral thing to do - free all the blood prophets and let them live as they choose without conditions - may not actually be possible. Even if it weren't for the fact that they would be used as currency by everyone else, there are costs to being a blood prophet. Neither complete restriction nor complete freedom may work.

As for the romance between Simon and Meg, it is slow-going. But while I'd like to get them to love and sexy times quickly, the slower pace does make sense for Meg and for Simon. Obviously Meg's just figuring   out how to use the microwave and have friends, let alone a lover. In no way would she be ready to take all of that on, having only been out of the Controller's keeping for a matter of weeks. And it is absolutely sweet, endearing, and hilarious to watch Simon have NO idea how to act around Meg. I feel like a Crow myself, enjoying all the entertainment his missteps provide.

The world builds and expands and we see exactly how precarious Thasia is, but also how one person can inspire trust, and that trust spreads until it's possible that maybe, just maybe, the humans and earth natives can build a new model of coexistence.

Bea:

I jumped into this just a week after reading “Written in Red” and stayed up until dawn to finish it. I was a very tired puppy. :D But it was worth it. “Murder of Crows” is a different book than “Written in Red”; it’s much more plot driven. I did miss the time we spent with Meg, Simon and the others. Not only is the story more plot-driven but we spend significantly more time in the minds of other characters both old and new. I loved that we spent more time outside of the Courtyard and got to see other areas and learn more about the world.



Bishop moves things forward with book; some plot threads are tied up and new ones introduced. We learn a good deal more about the cassandra sangues, Meg develops confidence (at one point Simon thinks to himself that she’s getting snippy and would be nipped for her attitude if she were a Wolf), Simon makes progress working with the local police, we learn more about Captain Burke who is a man of mystery it seems, and more about Tess. There are lots of revelations big and small, most of which took me by surprise, in a good way. I was pleased to see that some of my guesses about the cassandra sangue were correct. Nifty and I had talked about them and we were eager to see how our predictions fared. We both were pretty accurate.



Unlike Nifty and Cerulean, I haven’t read other books by Bishop other than this series but I appreciated her humor, her detail, her knack for characterization, and her ability to mix in serious issues such as race, prejudice, and environmental awareness. The themes are woven into the story and never shoved down our throats, something else I appreciated.



As Nifty and Cerulean already mentioned, there’s a brewing romance between Meg and Simon. Given the inherent differences in their respective species, I have doubts about the viability of a long-term romance between them but I am hoping it will work. The romance moves slowly and it was amusing to watch Simon feel his way and acknowledge, at least to himself, his feelings for Meg. I actually like that it’s moving slowly given Meg’s background and her inexperience, it’s much more realistic this way.



I didn’t love "Murder of Crows" as much as "Written in Red" but I did enjoy it and want to read it again. The next year of waiting for the next book will be a long one.


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