Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Recommended for: UF fans who like action
Read June 2012
★  ★  ★  ★

Let me get one thing straight: I don’t read romance novels. If romance is included within the scope of main character experience, I’ll still read it. But if the main story is magickal, wonderful, soulmate kind of l-o-v-e and there is pining, angst, and ridiculous pretend fights when really they l-o-v-e each other but can’t admit it, that’s a big fat “pass” for me. Skinwalker won’t appeal to those who like a little romance with their paranormal. Move along now.

Jane is an interesting, unusual entry into the UF field, featuring an part-Cherokee woman with a one-of-a-kind ability to shapechange. Jane rides into town on her motorcycle Bitsa (“bits of this, bits of that”), interviewing for a job with the New Orleans vampire clan, hunting a rogue vampire that is tarnishing their reputation and hurting their position with the police. After meeting Katie, one of the vampire council representatives and madam of a house of ill repute, Jane gets the job. Efforts to discover the rogue are hampered as Jane is shadowed by a couple of men that might be working with a different agenda.

Lead supporting role in this book goes to Beast, a mountain lion who share’s Jane’s body. Unfortunately, Jane’s memory gaps leave her without explanation for her and Beast’s relationship, but that will change after she meets a Cherokee shaman and requires vamp healing during her search for the rogue.

Set in New Orleans, the city proves to be a lush background. Hunter gives a good feel for the details, from cobblestone streets to decorative balconies, to the overbearing heat and humidity. In the UF field, there are many different degrees in an author’s ability to use language, and Hunter does well with few missteps. While Jane herself is a very direct person, she does describe things in enough detail to keep the story interesting and unique, from teapots to the smell of a motorcycle. For a first novel, it does a decent job of avoiding the dreaded info-dump, and feeds bits and pieces to the reader in large enough chunks to give context but not bog down the story. It also allows some of Jane’s internal humor to show through when she is being professional enough to not say her remarks out loud.

We did get one girly scene of her shopping and then dancing, which makes me wonder a little if Hunter is trying to be all things to all readers. You know–Jane rides a bike, carries a bad-ass gun–but can wear frothy little skirts and dance! Her long hair bothered me as well, especially given Jane as a no-nonsense fighter. I think it makes sense in context of Native heritage, but that’s not given as a reason.

Had I been Hunter’s editor, I would have asked that they stressed that this is the first time Jane interacts with “normal” vamps. I think she took some uncharacteristic and stupid actions (according to what she says to the reader in the narrative) when she first meets Leo, the head of the council, but that could probably be explained by the newness of the experience. There are a few things along these lines that trouble me about Jane’s decision-making. I’m not sure it’s internally consistent.

Still, it’s a decent book. The mystery of the “rogue vamp” that doesn’t act like a vamp moves along nicely. While sexual tension plays a role in many of her interactions, both male and female, it doesn’t overtake the story or focus on the mystery. A supporting character of Jane’s close friend Molly and her godchildren Angie and Evan help humanize Jane’s rough edges and show her caring side. While it doesn’t avoid all of the UF tropes, Hunter does a nice job of making a strong, distinct female character. Her unusual ethnicity and mystical connections make a nice touch in the UF world of vampires, fae and weres.

Overall, it’s probably a 3.5 read on my personal scale, but I’m rounding up because it’s one of the standouts in the field.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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