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Book Review: Written in Red by Ann Bishop

Written in Red by Anne Bishop

Title: Written in Red

Author: Anne Bishop

Series: The Others #1

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Rating: 2/5 stars

The Overview: 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 Liaison job. First, he senses she’s 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 humans and the Others that will surely follow.

The Review:

Woe is me! Another book EVERYBODY in the blogosphere seems to love that I didn’t. The ultimate shame is that it started out with such promise. The cool ideas and concepts for this world had me convinced I needed a hardcover copy of it ASAP. All I can say now is that I’m glad I stalled on buying it. :/

Like I mentioned, I liked it because of its ideas. Written in Red offered a newly-conceived society and brand of supernatural that screamed of originality (and let’s face it, it’s really difficult to come up with something that hasn’t been done before in such a flooded market). It was awesome. There was also an abnormal focus on business, books, and organization – three things that couldn’t be more up my alley (seriously, my entire life could be summed up by those three words). And I also enjoyed the cute interactions between the protagonist and her new supernatural friends (that’s right, I said cute, which actually sums up how I feel about the book as a whole).

So, there’s clearly an abundance of things in this novel that sparked my interest and even I found myself asking the question what could possibly go wrong?

Famous last words.

What went wrong was a glaring lack of conflicts and driving forces behind each scene. Bishop took a rather practical approach that focused more on logistics surrounding her characters rather than providing any real meaning behind their actions. Don’t believe me? I have examples. Here’s what I call the “towel sequence” in which the main focus of each of these scenes was a nameless terrycloth wonder:

“A moment’s thought about snow and puppies had her running upstairs to snag a bath towel from the linen closet”
“The towel over one arm…”
“He looked at Sam, then at the carry sacks and the towel.”
“Vlad flung the towel over his shoulder and held the handles of the carry sacks”
“and then placed the pup and towel where Sam could look out between the front seats”
“he took the sacks and towel out of the vehicle and carried them inside.”

end sequence one

“Packed up his bowls and towel
“she… made sure the towel was on the seat”
“grabbing her own carry bag and Sam’s towel
“tossed the towel on the floor”
“Told Sam to stay on the towel

I didn’t even notice until compiling these quotes that the carry sacks also offered a supporting role to the scenes. This is one of the funnier examples, but in all seriousness, the writing style as a whole was a lot like these passages – more concerned about how trivial items got from point A to point B then how the specific placement of those items mattered to the plot as a whole. I, for one, discovered that I really don’t give a damn where the towel went. Perhaps if there had been something, anything else driving the plot, these issues wouldn’t have bothered me as much. A conflict of any sort would have gone a long way here, is all I’m saying. I never actually got bored with the story, but after the initial few chapters was rarely ever engaged.

To help emphasize my point, I’d like to share a snippet from Chuck Wendig’s recent article I Smell Your Rookie Moves, New Writers (I realize Anne Bishop is not a new writer, but I feel like this excerpt from his article perfectly sums up my issues with Written in Red). Wendig says:

“Not Everything Is Interesting

At a rough guess, I’d say 90% of All Things Ever are uninteresting. Dull as drawing with white crayons on white paper. Things are boring. Life is boring. Details are mostly boring.

Storytelling, though, is the opposite of that. We tell stories because they are interesting. We offer narrative because narrative is a bone-breaker: it snaps the femur of the status quo. It is in fact the sharp, gunshot-loud fracture-break of the expected story is what perks our attention. Guy goes to work, works, comes home, has dinner, goes to bed? Not interesting. Guy goes to work, has the same troubles with his boss, endures the standard problems of the day (“where are my goddamn staples?”), goes home, eats an unsatisfying dinner, goes to bed and sleeps restlessly until the next day of the same thing? Still not interesting. Guy goes to work and gets fired? Okay, maybe, depending on if he does something unexpected with it. Guy goes to work and gets fired out of a cannon into a warehouse full of ninjas? I’M LISTENING.

Description is the same way. You don’t need to tell me what everything looks like because I already know, and most things aren’t that interesting. Leaves on a tree are leaves on a tree. For the impact of story, how many points each leaf has or how they move in the wind is not compelling. This isn’t a video game where you get points for painting every aspect of the environment with total authenticity. Skip it. Tell us the stuff that is unexpected. The things that shatter our notions: if one leaf has blood on it? Then we need to know that. We want to know that.

Cut the boring stuff.

Write the interesting stuff.

Trim, tighten, slice, dice. Pare it all down. Render. Render!”

If you’re a writer, I would definitely encourage you to read the rest of Wendig’s article – it’s fantastic. And it also helped illustrate the kind of magic writers should be bringing to their stories and why this one in particular left me wanting more.

Overall, my disappointment in this novel stems from how much potential it showed at the beginning that was never lived up to. I’m actually quite shocked to find the writing so lacking in an author I’ve been dying to read for years. Especially since so many people seem to love it. At the end of the day, when you’re 80% through a book and are still waiting for the arc of the story to present itself, you might have a problem.

Other books you might like more:

by Niki Hawkes

4 comments on “Book Review: Written in Red by Ann Bishop

  1. I couldn’t agree with you more Niki! The first part of this book was great. I, like you, got into the characters and the new world and admit I was riveted…for awhile. Somewhere along the line I lost interest and focus. I started getting frustrated with the development (or lack there of) of some of the characters and the plot in general, not much of any significance happened. But I kept reading…hoping. Then it totally lost me at the end…what a bitter disappointment. I mean…really??? I must confess I didn’t notice the towel or sacks. (Hahaha) But you are too funny and what you said about it is very true. I had such great expectations at the beginning of this book, only to feel like, I’m sorry to say, I had wasted my time reading it by the end.

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