Anne Bishop offers a lot to like in this book. It’s shifters, but they aren’t humans who sometimes wear fur. They are wolves first and humans second, but they’re more than simply wolves as well. The humans as a whole are very human with the same variety and criminal stupidity found in real life. These people are set against a world that has its own teeth and claws, and is uninterested in any human need for dominance.
This uneasy balance, and the efforts of both Others and humans who attempt to keep the balance, makes for an interesting read.
My only quibble may be because I started with this book, one that is late in the series. As far as I can tell, this is Earth with the serial numbers rubbed out. The days and months are all different words but similar to the English names, and for the most part, the geographical names follow the same patterns. There is even reference to old map traditions in our history. This makes the book sound more alt-history than urban fantasy. The tech level is near perfect to our modern times, only because the abundance of humanity is missing, the infrastructure that led to those developments is absent as well and doesn’t appear to have ever been there. This is jarring because one minute it’s my world and the next it is absolutely not.
That’s a pretty big quibble, especially since her world building in another book drew me to this one, but despite that issue, the rest of the world setup is intriguing. Had I read the series from the beginning, this might already be explained anyway. I enjoyed the culture clash elements and even how the flaws of humanity are so carefully revealed, such as willful ignorance and forgetting the past when it’s inconvenient to the narrative of human dominance.
The characters are different in logical ways whether from the same group or not. Meg’s difficulties are well drawn so you understand the internal battles she’s facing, and her relationship with Simon is wonderful, as is her connection to Sam. Among the humans, there are good people, bad people, and neutral people. There’s a bit of cultural idealism, but because the people are distinct, it didn’t push my buttons as much as it might.
The pacing jerks a little when the overall crisis begins, but it largely smooths out. I liked the variety of perspectives and solutions offered.
There is nothing sweet and cuddly about the Human First and Last movement. The terra indigene learned how to be better predators from watching the movement’s actions, but the retaliations are both deserved and treated well.
This is a strong novel looking at some important questions that underlie philosophies even when the proponents would reject that possibility. Sometimes it’s valuable to look outside ourselves to see the impact of our actions, and Marked in Flesh provides a fertile environment to explore those questions.