Timy reviews The Skin, J. E. Hannaford‘s debut Fantasy novel, the first in the Black Hind’s Wake series.
|Series: Black Hind’s Wake #1||Genre: Fantasy|
|Date of Publishing: October 18th, 2021||Trigger Warnings: Violence; Gun, Gore, Poisons, Venom, Abuse/imprisonment, Human (selkie) trafficking, Animal cruelty, Eating disorder, Substance abuse|
|Page count: 416||Publisher: Self-Published|
How far would you go to save your skin?
I’m a selkie, trapped above the waves until I can recover my skin. Humans used to call us seal-wives many years ago – before they broke the planet. I thought that after the warming, less humans would mean less danger. My kind believed our world was finally recovering.
We were wrong.
Up here, the magic is fading and Old Ones like me are being traded as trophies for rich and powerful humans to display in collections.
Without the Old Ones, the magic fades, without magic, the planet dies.
Humankind has gone too far and someone has to put a stop to it, I just wasn’t expecting it to be me.
As the selkie begins her hunt, far to the south on his enormous pleasure ship, Barge, Lord Sal hunts for missing Old Ones with a grand plan to leave his own mark on the world. Icidro and Prince Ulises are searching for them too, and this is a world where money talks louder than morals.
Okay, this was hard. I’ve been thinking a lot what song to pick for The Skin. Eventually decided to go with P!nk, because…well, you can never go wrong with her. Not exactly the vibe I was going for music-wise, but I think the lyrics fits pretty well for the theme.
There’s not enough rope to tie me down
There’s not enough tape to shut this mouth
The stones you throw can make me bleed
But I won’t stop until we’re free
Wild hearts can’t be broken
No, wild hearts can’t be broken
I think some authors started a conspiracy against me with the intention to prove that I, in fact, do like nautical fantasy (looking at you RJ Barker). I had my eyes on The Skin for a while now, as I have never read any stories about selkies (except one short story somewhere), so I’m not overly familiar with their mythology. In that regard, for me, it was a very refreshing read.
The story is told through three POV characters: Selkie, Georgie, and Lady Gina. Three different, although powerful female characters. Selkie finds herself ashore without her skin, in the hands of men who want to gain power and wealth through her. Having a hard time adjusting to her new life as a woman among humans. Lady Gina is preparing to one day take over the Barge. A pleasure ship owned by Sal who is also in the business of acquiring information. They also have a mission to free as many Old Ones as possible. (The Old Ones are ancient beings with powers that keep the wilderness alive – as much as they can with their number diminished and humans being destructive as always.) Georgie, Sal’s cousin is currently on such a rescue mission as she and her crew accompany a siren to safety. Not wanting to reveal much of the plot, let’s just say their paths meet in an interesting way, I only half saw coming. There are signs if you pay attention and the first part might be a bit confusing at first, but it will absolutely pay off and was really well executed.
The Skin provides a diverse set of characters, and you likely will find at least one to connect with. Personally, it took me a while to warm up to them, but eventually I got invested in finding out what’s going to happen next. But then, there was a lot going on you had to pay attention to – the search for the skin, for the Old Ones, the adventures and on top of all that, some political backstabbery just to make things more interesting. Sometimes I was thinking if less would have been more. Or rather, if the focus was put elsewhere. Like, I would have liked to learn more about the selkies themselves, their life in the sea. Also the Old Ones. A few were mentioned, but I kinda wanted more.
On the other hand, Hannaford tried to establish the world as much as possible in this first installment as characters were constantly moving from one place to the next and we’ve got to learn about sprites, the different kinds of…well, let’s call it magic, some of the politics, etc. But to me, the balance felt a bit off, which is a totally personal taste kinda thing. I’m more interested in mythology and vibes and characters than action and several plotlines crammed into one novel. In the end, I had this feeling that I never really got to know the characters all that well for me to love them. Like them? Yes, but I never developed strong feelings. To be fair, one specific event did get to me, and damn. Don’t let yourself be deceived by Hannaford‘s appearance as a nice lady. She is so not.
However, I can’t take it away from Hannaford, that her love and knowledge about marine life really shines through the pages. And that in itself is a treat and makes reading The Skin an excellent experience. She basically wrote a novel-length love letter to the sea and all its creatures and wonders.
I think my favorite part of the novel was the Barge. Although it’s not really detailed, there is a hint that we are after a disaster – or on the brink of it, depending on your POV – which decimated the population considerably, and only a few towns/cities remain. A lot was lost, but not some of the machines/technology. The Barge, a huge ship is one of those machines that still operates. It has electricity – not really specified though, but implied – several levels and is basically a small town/settlement in and on itself. All in all, it picked my interest enough to wish I could explore it along with its tenants. Gimmie a novel set in there only! We just didn’t spend nearly enough time on it.
I realize my review probably ended up being a bit more critical than I intended, while I was just throwing my random thoughts out there, but believe me, there is a LOT to love about The Skin. J. E. Hannaford brought some really great ideas and bits into this novel which makes me look forward to what comes next for the characters. And as I said, it really is a love letter to marine life – and wildlife in general. Not surprisingly, I think the main message of The Skin is that we have to take care of the (wild)life around us, or we’ll get fucked. Which is something that we really ought to remember. That, and life sometimes throws things at us we don’t see coming and we need to adapt to survive.
In short: go read The Skin!