Saturday, August 20, 2011

Monster Hunting: A Review of Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

I was fortunate enough to find Blood Cross, the second book in Faith Hunter's Jane Yellowrock series at a great discount today. It's going in my TBR pile, and who knows how long it will stay there. But I think now is as good a time as any to review the first book, Skinwalker.

I had mixed feelings on this one. It's an urban fantasy, told from the first person point of view of a butt kicking female lead. Basic plot: Jane Yellowrock is a shape-shifter of mysterious origins who hunts vampires for a living. So, pretty similar to Anita Blake, Riley Jenson, Sookie Stackhouse, Mercy Thompson...

This opens me up to the cliche count. I think you can measure a book's quality by how many cliches it uses and how well in manages to pull them off. I don't want to imply that this book has no original ideas, because that really isn't the case. But there are so many borrowed bits here that I can't resist commenting on them.

1)The alpha heroine: I buy books with this cliche on purpose. The world of urban fantasy and paranormal romance has lately become populated with kick ass female voices. How does Jane Yellowrock measure up? She has the entire package: orphan of hazy origins, mysterious powers that make her able to fight the bad guys in the first place, loner/misfit tendencies, but enough humor and heart that she's likeable. And I did like Jane, despite the fact that she's in many ways the same as so many heroines that have come before. The few things that are really different about her are pretty cool. I loved her "Beast" and how that entire plot took the concept of alter-ego to a whole different level.

2) The vampires: In probably 90% of vampire based fantasy I've come across, vamps are organized in some bizarre hierarchy with all of these elaborate rules. Almost as often in this type of book there's a vampire high up on the food chain that wants to seduce our plucky heroine. Usually of European origin, often French.(Did Leo remind anyone else of Jean-Claude from the Anita Blake books?) Leo was pretty dis-interesting to me for these reasons. To be honest, all of the vampires were dis-interesting. But Leo was especially disappointing because I so wanted him to stand out. But no, he's stuffy, commanding, self-possessed, and predictable. Only at the very end did I get the impression that he might have some deeper, more interesting place in Jane's life in future books.

3) Along the lines of the stuffy vampire cliche, there often seems to be the more down to earth counter part that the heroine is also potentially attracted to. In this case that person was Rick. I was crossing all my fingers that it wasn't going to turn into a love-triangle situation. It hasn't...yet. But Rick is about the same level of interesting as Leo in my opinion. I just didn't care for him. Too average.

4) The villain: Actually, this one started out like it was going to be just another cliche but turned out much more interesting. I thought that Jane was dealing with some B-movie style monster that, while difficult to kill, is mindless and impossible to care about. This is done very often in urban fantasy (check the Riley Jenson series for examples). I was proven wrong when the end took a little twist that I won't give away. I wish that the author had done a better job of building up to that point. If only Jane had more one on one interaction with the villain prior to the climax, said villain might have come off as even less cheesy.

All in all, this was an ok book. I was pretty entertained. I hope it improves as the series progresses. 3 stars.

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