UF Done Right -- Huzzah!

Imagine a world where humans aren't the dominant race. Here, survival depends on walking a very fine line, and maintaining peace with a race not at all averse to slaughtering an entire town for the slightest offense. The terre indigene were here before the humans were, and they have learned how to assume the form of mankind in order to interact with them – but never presume to think their interest is benign. Humans create useful and fascinating things, and since the terre indigene control the resources needed to manufacture these items the two races have formed a business arrangement which benefits both sides. The “Others” get the products that come from the inventive minds of the human race, and the humans get to keep on breathing.

In a world like this, the gift of prophecy carries an expensive price tag.

Meg Corbyn named herself. Until now, she has only ever been known by the designation: cs759. She is a cassandra sangue – a blood prophet – born with the ability to foresee events. There is a cost to using her gift, however. To see the visions, Meg must cut her skin. It is a dangerous talent, and therefore meticulously controlled. The cassandra sangue are bred and raised in the protective custody of men and women who sell their prophesies for a fee. Every waking moment is strictly regimented, learning is kept to those images and concepts which will aid in the translation of a prophecy, and they are allowed only enough exercise to keep them healthy – but not enough to build either muscle or stamina.

Refusing to live in this slavery any longer, Meg escapes and runs for everything she's worth.

Simon Wolfguard is the leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, the carefully respected and guarded home of the local terre indigene. He doesn't care much for or about the humans he must interact with, but everything is turned upside down when Meg walks in and asks for a job. Who is this weak young woman who travels in a snowstorm wearing nothing more than a jacket to keep her warm? Though he allows her to stay, he is deeply confused by the new addition to the Courtyard. Meg doesn't act as humans typically do. She's simple, inexperienced and sweet, completely unguarded, and oddly innocent.

But she's also lying.

Meg knows her new boss isn't buying her cover story. Secrecy is the best way to prevent her former keepers from finding her, but she may not have the choice to keep the truth hidden. At the first indications that the keepers are moving closer in search of their lost property, it becomes more likely that she'll have to trust Simon and the other terre indigene – and hope they won't use her blood and exploit her gift as her own race has.

~~~

I loved this book! Anne Bishop is a master craftsman when it comes to world-building – her Black Jewels books are exceptionally intricate. I was a little leery about picking up her new urban fantasy series, but reading this story set any and all such skepticism to rest.

The characters! I'm all about the characterization, and when it comes to an urban fantasy I am very difficult to please. I am so sick of the tradition the likes of Harrison, Hamilton, and others like them have formed: making any book that so much as mentions werewolves, vampires, or other supernatural beasties automatically turn into a smut-fest with no real personalities involved. I'm disappointed, disillusioned, and totally scarred by some of my experiences with this genre. All I can say now is, “Thank you, dear Anne!”

While it's very clear there will be a romance at some point between Meg and Simon, this book had 0% romantic tone. They've learned to live with each other – very important when they're practically co-habiting – they have come to respect one another, and there is even a tentative bond forming between them built on a friendship that is completely alien in this world. Will they end up head over heels in love? Oh yeah. Will they have sex at some point? I have no doubt. But it's not insta-love or the unhealthy S&M relationships of other series. Setting aside the fact that she is human (a special sort of human who can cut her skin and foretell the future, but a human nonetheless) and he is a Wolf, they are two personalities that have found balance. No heaving of bosoms, no horny moon puppies, and no ridiculous sex positions. It's nice.

As for the rest of the cast, there are some stereotypes, admittedly. However, it's a nice blend of traditional and revamped. I can't say any of the creatures themselves are original, as they are drawn from established lore – vampires, werewolves, elementals, the coyote trickster, and so on. Their backgrounds involve an interesting twist, though. The wolves and other shapechangers are wolves, crows, and other beasts who have learned to fit themselves into the human form. They're not a hybrid blend of monster and man, they're actual sentient animals that simply change their shape. It creates a very different dynamic for the world.

Tess is mysterious, kinda creepy, and nearly explosive most of the time. Vlad is laid back and cool, but leaves no doubt that he could slaughter a Coach bus-full of Sumo wrestlers if he was so inclined. Jester is fun, colorful, and – of course! – mischievious! Mr. Erebus is the perfect aged Dracula-type, but the soft spot he has for Meg is really sweet. Then there're the ponies, Henry, Jake & Jeni, Nathan, Blair, and the lovable Sam! They're a fun crew to hang out with, and as the story goes along it's clear that they are the perfect people for Meg to have run across.

Are there faults and shortcomings in this book? Probably, but I really don't care about them. I thoroughly enjoyed spending time in this world with Meg, Simon & Sam, and little speed bumps didn't spoil it for me. I immediately dived into and devoured the sequel, and duly bawled my eyes out when I discovered Book #3 isn't coming out until March 2015 … AAAARGH!! That tells you how much I loved this story. So, my final word on the subject is download it, go out and buy it, order it from your book club, steal it from a friend, or grab it at the library. I hope you enjoy the fun!

Bravo!