Content Warning: self-harm
As a cassandra sangue, or blood prophet, Meg Corbyn can see the future when her skin is cut—a gift that feels more like a curse. Meg’s Controller keeps her enslaved so he can have full access to her visions. But when she escapes, the only safe place Meg can hide is at the Lakeside Courtyard—a business district operated by the Others.
Shape-shifter Simon Wolfgard is reluctant to hire the stranger who inquires about the Human Liaison job. First, he senses she’s keeping a secret, and second, she doesn’t smell like human prey. Yet a stronger instinct propels him to give Meg the job. And when he learns the truth about Meg and that she’s wanted by the government, he’ll have to decide if she’s worth the fight between humans and the Others that will surely follow.
I’m going to write my review and then give a rating. Because there’s one aspect of this book that is incredibly problematic for me.
This is an alternate-world universe. In the “Brief History of the World” prologue we learn that Namid created all life on the planet. Knowing, as she did, the nature of all her creations she gave humanity isolation to grow and survive. They did. In the Mediterran and Black Sea areas they thrived. Until they began to push out to the “wild” places. Namid’s other creations already held claim there. The Others, as humanity called them or Terra Indigene to themselves, “did not see conquerors. They saw a new kind of meat.”
Wars were fought, with both sides winning and losing from time to time, though the terra indigene won more often than lost. Humanity huddled together in their pieces of civilization, surrounded by the wild.
Then, inexplicably, the humans offered things, “bits of shiny,” to be able to live in their settlements with enough land to grow crops. The terra indigene agreed, with trade for hunting and fishing, crop-growing and living satisfying both sides.
The terra indigene control all natural resources; humans invent and manufacture products. But every time humanity stepped out of line, the terra indigene were there to, violently, remind them who ruled. There were cities that simply didn’t exist anymore because humanity forgot by whose sufferance they lived on these lands.
And so, we come to today. Where humanity attempts to live in peace with the terra indigene – or forget they’re there, if possible. Where the terra indigene have set up Courtyards to keep watch over the humans and enforce the agreements made. “There is still sharp-toothed tolerance on one side and fear of what walks in the dark on the other.”
This introduction grabbed my attention instantly. The idea that humans expanded and did *not* conquer and kill the indigenous peoples of the land. That those peoples fought back and maintained control. I liked this concept, and was excited to read more.
There is a lot of mistrust, animosity, and fear between humans and the terra indigene. But we enter the world where there’s a tense truce between the them. A truce, yes, but there’s only fearful respect. That kind of respect often leads to hatred. It definitely does so here.
I quite enjoy how we get to see the good and the bad in this world from multiple characters. We spend most of our time in Meg’s point-of-view. A human, but a cassandra sangue – blood prophet – who knows little of actual humanity or the terra indigene. We spend time in Simon’s, a Wolfgard, head, and also in Monty’s, the human cop assigned to the Courtyard. These varied viewpoints give depth and richness to the world, allowing us a more comprehensive experience.
Now, my biggest concern and issue: the portrayal of self-harm, specifically cutting. The main character is a blood prophet. Meaning that she sees visions when she cuts herself, scarring her skin, drawing blood. Looking back, I think this is why it took me so long to start this series. When I finally did start it, I’d forgotten this aspect was a thing. Because cutting is a very real, pain-filled, personal thing in my home.
My daughter began self-harming when she was 12. We were lucky. She talked to us. We were able to get her help. She still struggles with it still, three years later, not unexpectedly. She’s in therapy, on medication, and has a ton of coping strategies and continued, constant support from us. She’s a beautiful soul, an amazing artist, a kind person, and funny-as-hell. And she tells me that she still has the urge to cut from time to time. She redirects herself and has kept herself from doing so again, proud of that fact. But it’s something she’ll likely always have to resist.
Meg, as a cassandra sangue, has physical symptoms that urge her to cut to give a prophecy. Her skin tingles, itching, irritating. We’re told she has euphoria when she cuts and gives a prophecy. Pain when she holds it in. This is incredibly problematic, and that’s an understatement. I cannot see ever recommending this book to my daughter or any young adult/teenager that may see this as a validation of self-harm. In fact, I’m currently struggling with whether I should bring it to my daughter’s attention to stay away from, or just hope she never comes across it. **Please note: This is not marketed as young-adult, nor do I think it is “young-adult,” but my daughter reads more mature books from time to time, and it’s not inconceivable that she could come across this.**
The romanticizing of self-harm is one of the reasons that my daughter began cutting. It only takes one cut, too deep, in the wrong spot, to end my daughter’s life. Glamorizing, or positive portrayal of, self harm is not okay. They’re not acceptable. They’re completely and utterly inappropriate.
This book walks a line with its portrayal, and here is my struggle. I said above that we’re told that Meg gets euphoria from cutting. Honestly, why couldn’t this be left out entirely?? The author could have gone an entirely less problematic route with the cassandra sangue‘s “gifts.” I wish she had.
However, what we’re told and what we’re shown don’t exactly match. What we see on the page is intense pain, debilitation, and more agony. There is one scene where the euphoria is mentioned, so briefly it is barely there. And it’s quickly overshadowed by her weakness and pain.
There are many scenes where Meg tries to control the urge to cut, where other characters try to prevent her from cutting, giving her other avenues to use, and always keeping her safe and protected. This, and the fact that I checked with a friend that had read the entire series, is the only thing that will allow me to continue on with the series.
I truly wish I had no issues with this book, because I enjoyed the hell out of it. I wasn’t sure. I hated the idea of Meg’s prophetic “gift.” I hoped the book wouldn’t make self-harm seem to be a good thing. And, I kept reading, because the negatives portrayed for self-harm were strongly there, and the book simply grabbed me, not letting go until I finished. The world, the characters, the over-arcing story; I couldn’t stop – and I needed to finish to assure myself the romantic portrayal of self-harm didn’t occur.
Meg’s story has 4 more books. Five books in total to tell the story for Meg that’s deserved. I also want to see if it’s handled right. I think it could be.
Despite Meg’s “gifts,” her character seems like such a simple character. Simon hires Meg as the Liaison for the Lakeside Courtyard. She receives mail from the humans, sorts and delivers it to the terra indigene. There is some definite hostility towards Meg from the residents of the Courtyard. They can’t figure her out, and new is not interesting when it comes to humans. But through small kindnesses, unexpected changes, and bits of prophetic help, she begins to make her place among them. She’s infinitely complex, something that she’s just beginning to learn.
Meg opens the door for the terra indigene. They begin to see humans a bit differently, not just through her eyes, but through their experiences with them that surround her. One woman may be the ripple in the pond that changes everything.
I loved Meg. She wants, so desperately, to live her life. Without interference or direction from others. And she’s not afraid to fight to do that. She’s loyal, and doesn’t back down. Meg is a unique character, with an interesting way of seeing the world that I enjoyed immensely.
The terra indigene that we meet are not your average vampires and werewolves. This part intrigued me most of all. These shapeshifters are not humans that turn into wolves, or even wolves that turn into humans. Justice is swift and brutal, and a little bit gruesome. When someone crosses into the Courtyard, with intent to harm or be where they shouldn’t be, the butcher shop puts a sign up announcing the availability of “special meat,” and, yes, it’s exactly what you think it is.
The world is compelling. I love the characters. I’m definitely going to keep reading. The possibilities are huge. I haven’t forgotten my concerns, but I am going to see where the author takes me.