Many people consider Homo sapiens to be the top predator. How wrong they are! Match man against tiger and the outcome is inevitable. The truth is that, like the rat, humans are opportunistic omnivores. They adapt their diet to circumstances. Writers of urban fantasy have speculated that there are more dangerous predators hidden amongst our populations. The vampires and werewolves are happy to use us as cattle, food herds that should not be over-predated in case they run out. But, like with the rat, there comes a point when humans become a plague.
The premise behind Anne Bishop’s ‘The Others Series’ of which ‘Etched In Bone’ is the fifth, is that the shifter races were finally pushed too far by the rapacious activities of mankind, especially their disregard of the natural environment that all depended on. Suddenly, the human population found themselves decimated, the shifters in the ascendant. After a revolt by belligerent factions of society, think gun-toting white supremacists, most of the human cities were over-run. Now, groups of shifters are trying to build bridges. One of these is in the town of Lakeside. Within the town is the Lakeside Courtyard, the province of the shifters.
The two groups are learning to leave each other mostly alone while living side by side. A few humans are permitted access, some even living within the confines. One of these is Meg Corbyn. She is a blood prophet and this is her refuge. A handful of human women are able to see the future when their blood is spilled. Earlier volumes deal with this in more detail. The leader of the shifters is Simon Wolfgard.
The Elders of the shifter races, very ancient and mostly insubstantial, are undecided as to whether the rest of the human race should be eradicated. They lurk invisibly around Lakeside Courtyard, observing. The main focus of their attention is the effect of Cyrus Montgomery on the community. Cyrus is the brother of the human police lieutenant, Crispin James Montgomery, usually referred to as Monty, and is his complete opposite and tries to protect Cyrus from is stupidity. Shifter justice involves eating the criminally stupid.
Cyrus, who prefers to be known as Jimmy, is only out for himself. He is a bully and a petty criminal. He is shaping his son into the same mould but expects his put-upon wife to do everything for him. If she doesn’t, he will beat her. His daughter he regards merely as an encumbrance. He is totally unlikeable, an example of the worst kind of human. Inevitably, his presence and his scheming cause chaos.
While this is an excellent novel with the characters and their motives well-depicted, it is much more than that. It is a warning. The way the humans and shifters view life is very different. It is a clash of two cultures and only by trying to understand each other can they begin to live in harmony. The distinctions between the two groups is clearly shown with the Elders and Cyrus being at the two extremes. Cyrus’s me-me-me attitude is, unfortunately, much too prevalent in some societies and represents the hardliners who fail to learn from either their mistakes or those of others. These extremes encompass the trajectory that the human race is currently on. Attitudes hold the seed to our destruction.
It is time to heed it. Nature is already fighting back and if we don’t change our habits we are in danger of losing everything. If Bishop hadn’t made it clear that this was world-wide, one would wonder if she was taking a swipe at present America, even three years ago.
As a supernatural fantasy, this has the originality to take it out of the ordinary. You do not have to read the earlier volumes to understand what is going on but it might help to understand the subtleties.
(pub: ROC, New York, 2017. 397 page hardback. Price: $27.00 (US), $36.00 (CAN). £22.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-451-47449-0)
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