Pros: Fascinating world and society building; great characters
Cons: A couple of setting details feel off; too many characters
Rating: 4 out of 5
Anne Bishop’s Wild Country (World of the Others, The) introduces us to the town of Bennett. All of the humans in Bennett were wiped out in the war between Humans First and Last and the terra indigene. Now, under the careful watch of a handful of Sanguinati and wolf-shifters, the town is being resettled. The peace between humans and Others is tentative at best. As we saw in Etched in Bone, the Lakeside Courtyard has been holding job fairs to find people suited to living in Bennett. Police academy graduate Jana Paniccia, who can’t find an actual job as a police officer because she’s female, gets a cryptic message suggesting she go to the job fair, and she ends up taking a job as a deputy in Bennett, working for a wolf-shifter who does not like humans, Virgil. Relations between the humans and Others become frayed as bad things happen in distant Lakeside, and then only get worse when a clan of Intuit called the Blackstones decides they want to settle in Bennett. Unlike most other Intuits, these make a living as grifters, gamblers, and con artists, and they aren’t averse to killing people to get what they want.
You could probably read this if you haven’t read the other books set in this world, but I wouldn’t really recommend it. There are parts of the plot that are spurred by events in Etched in Bone that happen in parallel to this book (Meg’s abduction by Cyrus), and it would feel weird if you’re expecting a standalone book.
There are way too many characters in this book. Every time a scene shifted I had to stop for a moment to remember exactly who the characters in the new scene were. Every character is a named character, no matter how minor. Also, while I was willing to accept for a time while reading this series that humans have managed to keep producing technological items despite the culling of humans by the Others, it’s getting hard to buy into. Cell phone towers only operate locally, okay, I get that. But given that cell towers are maintained and repaired by megacorporations, and this setting seems to have no megacorps, how are the towers being kept up? The only jobs that are filled are basic ones–there’s no local screen repair store, or cell phone activation agent. There needs to be some explanation, however brief, of the fact that things that should require large factories and distance-shipping, like cars and computers, are still around. For a time it was easy to accept that we just hadn’t seen that part of the world yet; after this many books it’s distracting.
That said, if you can overlook those issues, this is a fantastic book. The characters have depth and dimension. There’s a wide enough array of good, evil, and sideways (most of the Others would be difficult to classify as either) that it’s okay that a couple of characters are at the ends of the spectrum rather than just in the middle. A bit of good and evil also fits the fantasy milieu.
As with the other books set in this world, this is more about worldbuilding and society-building than it is about plot. We get to watch as people resettle the town and try to avoid pissing off the Elders who live just outside of the town boundaries. It’s interesting to watch the Others, particularly Virgil, try to understand and relate to humans. We watch Jana try to navigate the minefield that is the sheriff’s office, which also happens to equate to wolf-pack dynamics (I was particularly fascinated when Jana adopted a puppy into the mix). We also get to see more of the Intuits, since quite a few of them live in and around Bennett, and they’re a little less at risk than the ‘normal’ humans from the Others.
There’s a fair amount of violence, though it isn’t glorified. There’s an attempted rape, and torture and actual rape, although it isn’t depicted in too much detail (mostly after-the-fact). It’s a dangerous world, though, so there is some blood and bad things do happen. The climax of the book is a wild, amazing, tension-filled battle that kept me up late reading! Sex also happens. A variety of relationships are depicted, from friends-with-benefits, to romance, to a same-sex married couple, and they’re all handled well.
The characters, worldbuilding, and society-building are, to me, the best parts of this series. I very much look forward to more of these books from Anne Bishop.