(Note: depending on where you live, this trilogy is alternately titled Monster Blood Tattoo or The Foundling’s Tale.)
(Further note: by necessity, this contains some spoilers.)
Rossamünd Bookchild is an orphan in a world full of monsters. Literal monsters—the sort with big tentacles and gnashing teeth who eat children and hate humans. The books follow his move out of the foundlingry and into a series of jobs, none of which he is exceptionally good at, and all of which lead to the ultimate lesson of the books: not all monsters are monsters.
The story takes place over about six months in a fictional world called the Half-Continent, specifically in the Empire, a sprawling thing based on the Roman Empire and with a complex history that is occasionally alluded to. Monsters are real, and (as Rossamünd learns) come in a variety of levels of friendliness towards humans. Some are downright helpful, while others really are murderous fiends. However, this level of complexity is not well-known amongst humankind, and to be kind to monsters is considered the worst kind of treachery and is punishable by death.
So why should you read this?
1. It’s feminist. The story features a few very strong female characters, and the gender roles and social structure within the Empire are complex. Women are portrayed as fighters as much as men, and one of the two main female characters, Threnody, specifically joins a profession that had been all-male. Because the books focus on Rossamünd and his own struggles with who he is and who he wants to be, we don’t get a full sense of the struggles of women specifically. Europa of Naimes, the Branden Rose, is as much the main character as Rossamünd, and is wonderfully complete. She is powerful, clever, brave, and can be tender. She is awesome.
2. It’s pro body modification. It’s even in the title of the series. People get marked in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons. The books also deal with the mixed reactions that come with deeper modifications in the form of the lahzars, people who have had surgical modifications made to their bodies to give them fantastic powers.
3. It deals with the concept of “passing.” The author has given no indication that he intended it this way, but the idea of monsterhood can be read as any number of oppressions—I read it as disability, myself. The majority of monsters in the books are obviously monstrous (obviously disabled) and while some of them are friendly or indifferent towards humans (temporarily able bodied people) and their opinion of them, many are angry (and righteously so—monsters and humans got along until humans decided they were better and started to kill and try to contain monsters). It eventually comes out that Rossamünd is, himself, a monster, but one that looks like a human—invisible disability—and he has to work out how to try to fit in as someone who passes but is sympathetic to the plight of his fellow monsters in a world that is decidedly anti-monster. He is persecuted and ultimately driven from the human world because of his awareness of his own monstrousness, and becomes
a disability rights activist a sort of covert figure for monsters, able to sneak into human spaces and be as helpful or disruptive as needed.
If that’s not enough for you, the books have encyclopedias of all the new words that are introduced tucked handily into the back, expounding on the history of the Half-Continent. Come on. Books with encyclopedias inside them in addition to the story. You know you need to read these.
Hopefully this will serve as incentive for all of my followers to read these post-haste, because it is really hard holding down a fandom alone, you guys. Plus if I like you I’d give you one of my badass urls.