Written in Red
Length: 487 pages, standard paperback page, very slightly smaller than standard font size
If the rating wasn't warning enough, this review's going to be pretty harsh, because oh. My. Fuck. Was this book ever a shit book.
I'm going to start off by talking about the one thing that almost brought it up from an F- to merely an F rating. The concept behind the setting was pretty cool. It's basically an alternate history Earth in which supernatural creatures who're collectively called the Others (by humans) or terra indigene (by themselves) kicked humanity's ass with their supernatural powers, but rather than killing off the humans, the Others have let humans stick around in a subjugated capacity. Humans are allowed to have governments, set up infrastructure, develop technology, etc., but the distribution of natural resources like iron and water are controlled is controlled by the Others, and the Others also maintain a presence (called a Courtyard) in human cities that is independent of human laws, just to make sure that the furless monkeys don't get too uppity. Not all humans are just regular humans, though. There are some people who can see visions of the future when they get cuts on healthy skin. These people are known as either blood prophets or cassandra sangue (so original), and while they're normally held in compounds and kept under tight control, our primary protagonist Meg Corbyn managed to escape from her compound and fled to the Courtyard in the city of Lakeside. Thus begins her attempt to hide among the Others in order to avoid being taken back to her compound.
There, that's all that's good about this book. Let the venting of bile ensue.
The characters are fucking idiots. I'll give Meg a minor pass on this point because part of the backstory is that blood prophets are kept from learning practical things in order to make it easier to keep them captive. It's clumsy, but at least there's some justification. She's also dumber than can fairly be justified by that, but whatever, at least there's some sliver of a reason for it. The other characters don't even have that much of an excuse.
The Others, as a whole, don't seem so much like a collection of utterly alien races as they do like a bunch of self-absorbed dumbasses. They're supposed to be incapable of relating to humans, yet they themselves are a collective of different species, so it makes no fucking sense that they can't make basic observations and learn about humans despite the fact that, for instance, the Sanguinati (vampires) are able to understand the behavior patterns of Crowguards (werecrows). I mean, people in the real world are able to understand how their pets or livestock think, and we can't even speak a common language with them. This isn't fucking difficult. But no, we're to believe that Simon Wolfguard (no points for figuring out that he's a werewolf), the nominal leader of the Courtyard in Lakeside, can't understand why a woman would want to dress sexily instead of practically.
Simon is sort of a secondary protagonist, incidentally, and fuck me, but he's such a loser. He's got two conflicts in the story.
Conflict 1: his son Sam was traumatized when his mate was killed by humans who were able to escape punishment, so now Sam refuses to be anything other than a little bitch who won't take on a human form. This is a ridiculous conflict on the simple principle that being an animal is the shape-shifters' natural and more comfortable form. There are several times when Simon thinks about how much he hates trying to look like a human because it's unnatural and that the world makes so much more sense to him when he's in his wolf form. If Simon was upset about Sam's mental trauma and its further effects, that'd be understandable, but no, he's torn up inside just because his son won't take on a human form anymore. It's empty drama simply for the sake of being dramatic.
Conflict 2: he's got a crush on Meg. Yes, that's it, really. Bishop could've done something with him still trying to get vengeance on the people who killed his mate, looking into the political workings of human/Other relations or between various races among the Others, even just looking at how he's able to maintain any influence over the other Others when it's pretty clear that shape-shifters as a whole are the least powerful races in combat. But no, instead, Simon just keeps angsting about not understanding why he feels funny around a human with stinky hair.
In case you were wondering, both of those get resolved with pretty much no direct action by Simon. Who needs fulfilling plot arcs, right?
To be fair, sadly, Simon is probably the most sensible of the Wolfguards or really of any of the shape-shifters. The rest of them are about twice as dense about anything involving humans, but at least the lot of them barely get a moment as the focal point of the narrative, so we're spared from their internal angst.
The other Others who do get a notable amount of time being the focal point are Vlad Sanguinati and Tess. Vlad is almost tolerable by simple virtue of being so aloof that he does almost nothing aside from confront others about their stupidity when it affects him, except for towards the later parts of the book, when he goes out of his way to not kill or at least apprehend humans who're in parts of the Courtyard where they're not supposed to be. Mind you, this is the same guy who thought it was a perfectly fine idea to suck a sample of a guy's blood while shaking hands just to send a message early in the book. But hey, no need to let inconsistent characterization get in the way of plot drama, right? As for Tess, she's at once the best of the Others (by simple virtue of actually being so aloof that she does almost nothing aside from confront others about their stupidity when it affects her) and the worst (because Bishop puts so much effort into making Tess seem awesome and cool, to no avail). For instance, it's supposed to be a great secret that she's some kind of ancient soul sucker or some such, yet all of the Others are well aware that she could kill them with the greatest of ease if she wanted to, so the fact that her species is a secret is rather moot.
Not to be outdone, however, the human characters are even stupider. This applies both collectively (there was an incident in the past known as the Drowned City in which a city that pissed off their Courtyard got isolated and flooded until the humans were eradicated, and the few people who survived the incident spoke about elementals among the Others, and yet, the super elite hitmen working for the shadowy cabal in power behind the scenes of the human government had no idea that there were anything other than shape-shifters and vampires among the Others) and individually, which nobody exemplifies more than Asia Crane. She's a complete bimbo who's supposed to be a talented spy, yet she's just so fucking dumb that it's impossible to believe she could even scam someone into telling her their phone number. Her whole motivation for everything she does in the book is that she thinks impressing her employer enough will convince him to use her as a movie star. Yes, I'm serious about that.
I'm tempted to not even say anything about the book beyond the horrible characters, but I have to. So, Meg escaped into the Courtyard at the start of the book. Because Simon's so smitten by her, he hires her as their Liaison. That sounds fancy, but what it really means is that she receives mail orders from human companies and sorts them for distribution among the Others. Bishop treats this as being a big fucking deal. I'd say somewhere between a third to half of the book is dedicated to the details of being a mail clerk. We're not talking about any sort of special mail here, either. No, just basic letters, store orders, and DVDs. But some of it had sat around unsorted for months before mighty Meg got the job! How exciting!
When it's not being superseded by the important task of writing down names of delivery companies on a clipboard, the main plot is supposed to be about Meg's former owners wanting to snatch her back, of course. Needless to say, this is doomed from the start, since, you know, there's the whole thing where the basic premise for the setting is about how humans get their asses ripped wide open by the Others whenever there's a confrontation between them. Gee, I wonder what happens when a group of humans decides to attack the Courtyard in an attempt to kidnap Meg? It shouldn't come as a surprise that Asia was at the heart of that brilliant scheme, because her stupidity knows no bounds.
So, basically, we've got a character-driven plot where the characters all suck and nothing actually happens in the plot beyond Simon realizing that humans are fuckable. Lovely! Of course, the wonders of this piece of shit book don't end there. Did you happen to notice that it was rather longer than a typical paperback, given the page count and the fact that the font is one or two points smaller than usual? Yes, not only is it a nigh-pointless plot full of people who're working their brains to their limits in not forgetting to breath, but it's also fucking bloated like a waterlogged corpse! It's almost as if Bishop realized that the book was horrible, so she tried to make it so long that nobody would actually finish it. Too bad for her that I'm a fool for the sunken cost fallacy.
There's really nothing more that I can say about this that'll cover new ground. It was so bad that the back-of-book teaser summary was a better story than the book itself. If it wasn't the worst book that I've ever read, it's at least in the top 3. It was so boring that I actively pursued excuses to avoid reading it, including preferring to do things like stare out a window or grade quizzes written by a friend who wanted me to help improve her vocabulary. It put me to sleep more than once. Oh, well, I'll give credit where it's due, so I guess the fact that it's a remedy for insomnia is worth...something.
The fact that Bishop is a best-selling author who's been having her writing published since 1998 makes me guess that she must've written some good books. Written in Red is not one of them, though, and it was awful enough that I'm not going to test that guess any further.
Length: 487 pages, standard paperback page, very slightly smaller than standard font size