When you drive into a town called Sproing for what you think is going to be a weekend getaway, the name alone may give you a hint that it's everything but your average vacation destination. There are shapeshifters. Vampires. Things that defy explanation. You don't know who — or what — will be staying in the room next to yours.
The world Anne Bishop created in Lake Silence, the sixth installment in her bestselling The Others series, is as unpredictable and possibly volatile as it is fascinating. Creatures that used to be elusive are crawling out of the shadows, and how you interact with them could determine whether you're still alive in a few hours. You know something is up when your latest hotel guest starts sprouting black feathers on her face and microwaves an eyeball for lunch, or when your so-called lawyer has fangs and may or may not literally see you as prey.
"Legends have been a part of my personal story landscape since I was a child and used to watch the old horror movies about Dracula and werewolves," Bishop told SYFY Wire in an exclusive interview. "My inspiration wasn't so much myths and legends in the traditional sense as it was a lifetime of images swirling around and recombining into the beings that live in that world."
Bishop's mythical realm of Thaisia is a legend waiting to happen. The shifters and bloodsuckers in those movies morphed into the terra indigene, which appear human one moment only to be sprouting fur and claws the next. Subspecies like the Beargard, Panthergard, and Crowgard are as animal as they are human, which explains the eyeball incident (these scavengers apparently give little regard to whether a corpse is human so long as they can get away with a tasty eyeball). The Sanguinati are an altverse type of Nosferatu who sort out legal and financial dealings with just as much cunning as they can feed from a lodger at one of their resorts without him ever realizing he'd just been drained.
Even unknowingly feeding a sanguine addiction is nothing compared to what can happen if you incite the wrath of one of the Elementals. It was the weather around the Great Lakes that influenced creature-phenomena such as the fire elemental whose temper can literally ignite in blazes or the female form that rises from the waters of Lake Silence. Norman Thelwell's ponies inspired the dreamlike forms that can disappear in a whirlpool or a burst of flame. As for the nightmare fodder that lives on the wrong side of the lake, they also emerged from the fathomless depths of the author's imagination.
"The Harvesters came about because I was flipping through books of names and discovered that the name Tess meant 'harvester of life,' which, of course, referred to harvesting crops," Bishop said. "But I wondered what would happen if I took the meaning literally as a predator's way of hunting and ended up with that form of terra indigene."
Humans surrounded by these sometimes benevolent, sometimes lethal forces must tread carefully. Reluctant heroine Vicki DeVine is one of the few homo sapiens the terra indigene don't feel inclined to either hide from or strike in the jugular and hide the body. Her relationship with eyeball gourmet Aggie Crowgard sparks an unexpected reaction from other shifters.
"Vicki's relationship with the terra indigene is built around her rapport with Aggie," Bishop explained regarding what makes Vicki almost immune from attack. "They're both on a steep learning curve, with Vicki helping Aggie understand human interactions and customs while Aggie exposes Vicki to the various forms of terra indigene."
Getting the Others to masquerade as one of us sounds easier than it actually is. Vicki wishes she could disappear when Aggie, unaware of what public nudity means in the human sphere, walks out in broad daylight wearing a filmy nightgown that leaves nothing to the imagination. Giving the young Crow a crash course in how avoid wardrobe malfunctions (among many other things) has its advantages. Aggie's approval of this particular human has a somewhat nervous Vicki soon interacting with other species of terra indigene. Vicki's empathy and acceptance is what leads them to take her in as a member of their secretive community. They leap to her, swoop in, or materialize out of nowhere when she is in danger.
Former highway patrolman Wayne Grimshaw needs more than coffee and contemplation to investigate a seemingly random murder that could end up tearing Sproing apart in more ways than one when life-forms with killer claws and dagger teeth get involved. His gruff and often sardonic manner doesn't always appeal to people, but an unwavering dedication to serving and protecting no matter where he's been assigned is what sets him apart to the terra indigene as a human they want to associate with. Ex-cop Julian, who used to wear the badge with Grimshaw, now runs a bookstore in Sproing that caters to more than just his own kind. Not that it didn't take some getting used to. You probably would be just as startled as he was the first time a bunch of odd creatures bounced in, begging for treats with paws outstretched.
So what happens when humans set off the rage of the Others? There are a few shady personalities who find that out, and one of them is the husband who recently divorced Vicki.
"They exemplify greed and have a disregard for anyone who is not them and anything that they can't work to their advantage," Bishop said of the snob brigade. "They use abuse and intimidation as a means to control other people, and their belief that being human and rich means they can do what they want whenever they want."
If you want to keep flaunting your vanity and ignorance, don't go for a swim unless you want a gnarly hand to dig its claws into your flesh as it drags you deeper and deeper underwater. Your screams will go unheard.
Bishop may have not intentionally written a metaphor for anyone who has ever been on the fringe of society, but the otherness of the Others reflects non-fictional tolerance issues. Human dread and fear spawn from chance sightings and exaggerated rumors—some refuse to acknowledge the existence of these supernatural beings at all.
"I can't analyze the Others without breaking an essential and intangible connection to those characters and that world," Bishop admitted, but the reaction from our own world has not gone unnoticed by the author. "Readers have told me that the stories and characters let them think about issues that exist in our world, whether it's how we relate to the natural world or to each other. I'm always happy to hear that the story has not only entertained them but has given them a little bit more."
Lake Silence will be available in Thaisia and on Earth on March 8.