Review: SKINWALKER by FAITH HUNTER

March 17, 2010 Books, Reviews 1 ★★★★½

Review: SKINWALKER by FAITH HUNTERSkinwalker by Faith Hunter
four-half-stars
First in a brand new series from the author of the rogue mage novels Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind-a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires and hunts vampires for a living. But now she's been hired by Katherine Fontaneau, one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans and the madam of Katie's Ladies, to hunt a powerful rogue vampire who's killing other vamps...
Series: Jane Yellowrock #1
Published by Penguin on July 7th 2009
Genres: Speculative Fiction, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
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It’s taken me awhile, but I’ve finally jumped onto the “vampires as ordinary citizens” train. Like every other novel that has vampires (“vamps” is insulting, according to the characters in Skinwalker – a preference our main character doesn’t always obey) mingling with others of the citizenry, there is an undercurrent of civil rights movement going on. In varying degrees, it’s a subplot I can work with, because opening that can of worms allows the author to sketch out the power structure in place for the vampire characters; quite useful information later on. (And Marilyn Monroe was a vampire – can’t go wrong there!)

But let’s back up. When we meet Jane Yellowrock, she’s a bad-ass biker babe (looking pretty much nothing like the cover, but that’s okay – they rarely do) who is a vamp-hunter-for-hire (via her website) who has been hired by…vampires. She’s on the lookout for a rogue. As defined in these novels (there is currently one sequel, Blood Cross, which I’ll review later), rogues are either very young or very old vampires who’ve gone off the deep end and don’t obey the rules like everyone else. In fact, rogues seem to play pretty fast and loose with not only human rules (thou shalt not kill) but vampire rules as well (thou shalt not kill and get us in trouble for it). A rogue (because who else could it be but one of those young/old crazies?) has been killing off vampires and humans alike – in a pretty nasty way. In fact, the bodies aren’t just drained of blood…they’ve been…well, eaten, is really the tamest verb I can use here for those who may be faint of constitution.

Enter Beast. Jane knows she is full Cherokee, but other than that, when she walked out of the woods and into a Catholic orphanage at the age of 12, she didn’t know much else. At 18, she left the orphanage to make her way, and much of her personal history after that is murky; revealed in bits and pieces as it is relevant to the story. What is most important to know is that Jane is a shapechanger, and Beast is the mountain lion into whom she changes most often. Beast is often referred to as almost an independent consciousness, and is given her own voice when Jane changes. The relationship between Jane and Beast is revealed as the book progresses – giving what I believe to be a very interesting take on shapechanging.

Jane’s task leads her deep into the discovery of her own self – what she is, and more importantly, what she is NOT. The rogue is revealed to be something very different that she or anyone first suspected, and the ultimate success of her task leaves her with a whole new set of problems that are partially addressed in Blood Cross.

I was lent this book and its sequel on my trip to New Orleans, Louisiana – a friend thought they would be well-received as they take place in the city itself. Literary impressions of the city are no substitute for experiencing the closeness of the French Quarter or the unique smell of Bourbon St. in the morning hours, but I have to admit that this book does give one an appropriate idea of the darkness and uncertainty of the older parts of the city. Unfortunately, since I read it immediately after returning, the impression of the Quarter was fresh in my mind – I cannot accurately tell, if I had read this previous to my trip, if I would have found the scenic ambiance Hunter describes affecting the story the same way. As it stands, the deep darkness of streets far away from street lamps, the humidity and the smells and tastes of the city were definitely accurate, and made the read much more enjoyable for me.

Additionally, Jane’s voice as a no-nonsense skeptic (whom, did I mention, looks nothing, in my head, like the cover depiction) lends itself to pulling the urban fantasy genre out of the “attractive, emotionally stunted supernatural men with hearts of gold” impression that some other books give. Jane knows that no one is perfect, and she suspects almost everyone. The loyalties that we develop as a reader early on do not always survive to the conclusion, and to me, that means the author has done a good job contorting our impression of her characters. Hunter deconstructs motives, giving the reader just enough information (my favorite kind when reading any sort of book with the element of mystery) to come to the wrong conclusions several times. She pulls the reader in, one moment, one action at a time, and admits to her main character’s flaws without stating them outright in a way that seems to cheat a reader of valuable character development. The Jane Yellowrock I met on page one thought she knew everything, but by the time I finished, Jane knew less and more and was on shakier ground than she started. Well-paced character development is one of my favorite things about new books (you know, besides that new book smell), and Hunter definitely rings my bell with Jane, Leo Pellissier, Katie and all of Katie’s Ladies. This one is definitely on my recommended list for all urban fantasy or supernatural fiction fans.