Anne Bishop blazed onto the genre scene in the late 1990s with the Black Jewels Trilogy, a fantasy epic filled with violence, blood, and revenge that somehow mostly leaves readers with lingering impressions of its beautiful empathy, kindness, and impish sense of humor. This deeply affecting mixture won the hearts of many fans then (including mine), and remains her signature today.
In this sense, her new urban fantasy Lake Silence fits perfectly into her bibliography. Our protagonist is Vicky DeVine, a woman recently arrived on the shores of Lake Silence to take possession of her divorce settlement, a tumble-down set of buildings known as “The Jumble,” which she plans to renovate and turn into a rustic resort. While the joys of grouting and cleaning spiders out of attics might be enough adventure for most people, there’s much more than that in store for Vicky. As it happens, she doesn’t actually own the land her inheritance stands on—it belongs to the supernatural beings of incredible power and incredibly short tempers known as The Others—who have just finished taking out a sizable portion of the human race in what has become known as the “Great Predation.”
(Mind you, those humans did mostly belong to an organization called “Humans First and Last,” and supported the mass murder of Others—but that’s a story for another five-book series.)
Vicy’s trials and tribulations while learning to accommodate the many…quirks of her new landlords are by turns horror-worthy and delightful. Her particular group of Others includes curious shapeshifters of all sorts (bears, and cougars, and crows, oh my!), psychics, vampires, and the Lady of the Lake (minus the magical sword, plus one murderous temper). And here’s a much more serious threat to her wellbeing, other creatures who have designs on The Jumble. The danger they pose is far more insidious than any vampire’s bite.
Bishop has always been skilled at building playful, enticing worlds, and she’s filled this one with some of her best characters yet. Vampire attorney Ilya is smooth, capable, and no-nonsense, lest he eat you. There’s a bewildered local cop who makes for a great straight man throughout the story. Aggie the Crow and his feathered friends act as a bridge to the truly Other, with constant negotiations and explanations necessary to keep them on side, and not building nests out of the “shinies” that turn up in the course of the police investigations that give the novel its cloak-and-dagger tone (Vicky DeVine—how more noir can you get?).
Fantasy trappings aside, there is a deep emotional core to Bishop’s books. Her characters often suffer from specifically gendered violence, or the violence that long-term gendered expectations can inflict, and she uses the conventions of the fantasy to work her protagonists through trauma, upending our expectations of what a hero looks like in the process.
Fantasy has always been about earth-shaking battles and massive quests; Bishop expands the playing field into the realm of emotions and healing. Her books are filled with women of incredible power, but in the end, it’s hard not to see that power as protective. It’s an empathetic authorial gift too many women never receive—a power so intense, any man who dares try something she doesn’t like could be blown to smithereens for their trouble.
In that sense, Vicky DeVine’s story is a bit of a departure for Bishop. She is older than the protagonists of her earlier series. The abuse she experienced was not physically violent, but emotionally scarring. And most interestingly, she does not have any special powers. She is entirely reliant on others. Vicky’s story is as much a fantasy of appropriately used male privilege one of female power.
The men in Bishop’s books (the good ones anyway) flock to protect women, but in the right ways, with the best of intentions, and without the assumption that women are weak. Consent is taken seriously, and enforced by a community of like-minded men who never have to be told to believe women. In Bishop’s world, you know the good men by the fact that women feel safe around them—safe physically, yes, and safe to be themselves.
The power of community is important too.—if there’s anything Lake Silence tells us, it’s that getting through a tough situation literally takes a village—a village full of people who probably don’t look like you, act like you, or have your same values. You might not like some of them—you might even have to forget that you were taught to look at them as less than human. But you won’t survive without the village, so you may as well get on with figuring out how to deal with it. Because the Lady of the Lake is watching. And she’s pissed.