Skinwalker: A truly original urban fantasy heroine

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsurban fantasy book review Faith Hunter Jane Yellowrock SkinwalkerSkinwalker by Faith Hunter

The fantasy shelves are rife these days with tough ladies fighting supernatural crime, but Faith Hunter delivers something original.

The originality of Skinwalker begins with Jane Yellowrock, the heroine. Jane is a loner and a smart aleck, but her similarities to the stereotypical urban-fantasy protagonist end there. Jane is a skinwalker — a shapeshifter drawn from Native American folklore — and she lives in a sort of symbiosis with “Beast,” the spirit of a mountain lion. Some chapters are narrated from Beast’s perspective and Faith Hunter does a great job of altering her style to fit Beast’s feline thought processes. Then there’s Jane’s strange past, mysterious even to Jane herself, and her deep-seated (but never obtrusive or preachy) Christian faith.

Jane is hired by Katie, a vampire and madam, to hunt down a rogue vampire who has been killing others of its own kind. In the course of her investigation, Jane discovers that this rogue may be something stranger even than an ordinary vampire. She also learns a few tantalizing hints about the origin of vampires. It seems that Hunter’s vamps may date back to the mystery cults of Rome (and I can’t wait to find out more of this backstory).

The plot of Skinwalker is fast-paced and adrenaline-filled. It moved a little slowly for me in the beginning, in part because of the complexities of vampire politics, and in part because I’m not familiar enough with either guns or motorcycles to fully appreciate Jane’s high-tech, lavishly-described gear. But as the climax approached, the action was nonstop and had me on the edge of my proverbial seat. Plus, I’ve got a soft spot for novels set in New Orleans. Hunter’s New Orleans is extremely vivid, from the beignets to the flood damage.

Readers who are tired of the more “romancey” urban fantasies may find something to like here. Jane becomes attracted to a few people, but romance is definitely on the back burner in Skinwalker.

Overall, this is an exciting, unusual urban fantasy, and I recommend it to readers looking for a butt-kicking heroine who’s a little different from the norm.

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KELLY LASITER, with us since July 2008, is a mild-mannered academic administrative assistant by day, but at night she rules over a private empire of tottering bookshelves. Kelly is most fond of fantasy set in a historical setting (a la Jo Graham) or in a setting that echoes a real historical period (a la George RR Martin and Jacqueline Carey). She also enjoys urban fantasy and its close cousin, paranormal romance, though she believes these subgenres’ recent burst in popularity has resulted in an excess of dreck. She is a sucker for pretty prose (she majored in English, after all) and mythological themes.

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