Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

SkinwalkerTitle: Skinwalker (Jane Yellowrock #1)

Author: Faith Hunter

Publisher: Roc on May 22, 2009

Source: Library

Rating StarRating StarRating StarRating Star

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…

In Faith Hunter’s UF debut Skinwalker, vampires and witches are out and about in society. While this is a fairly common way of setting things up in UF, there are some pretty amusing details thrown into the mix. Rather than carefully planning this revelation, their communities were exposed when Marilyn Monroe tried to turn the president into a vampire in 1962. Take a moment to digest that awesomeness. I know I needed one.

Protagonist Jane Yellowrock is neither vampire nor witch: she’s a vampire hunter and a Cherokee skinwalker. At least, she’s pretty sure that she is. When Faith Hunter’s Skinwalker opens, Jane knows the scope of her abilities but not their name. She is a kind of shifter, able to transform into many different animal shapes, although her preferred form is that of a mountain cat. Actually, the mountain cat is Beast’s preferred form. For reasons unknown, another consciousness beyond her own inhabits Jane’s body – she simply calls this animal presence “Beast.”

Although some people find Beast annoying, I found the relationship between Jane and Beast to be a highlight of Skinwalker. Unlike most UF series involving animals, these two are not buds. Beast’s consciousness becomes dominant when Jane takes an animal form, using her animal instincts to track and hunt the rogue vampire.  Beast constantly tests Jane’s control and frequently punishes her by causing surges of animal instinct to break through Jane’s human form.

Obviously there are many other supes whose existence has not yet been revealed: fae, elves, and myriad other creatures may be roaming about. Jane isn’t privy to that kind of information – she’s not even sure what kind of supernatural creature she is herself – but she can speculate. Truthfully though, most of her headspace is taken up with thoughts of the rogue vampire and questions about herself.

Jane spends a great deal of time trying to figure out who and what she is, and where she came from. Without knowing her heritage, Jane can’t be certain about what king of a creature she is. One of her biggest motivations for taking the rogue vampire case – besides money – is the hope that one of the ancient vampires of New Orleans will smell her and know what she is. Jane’s fairly certain that she’s Cherokee, but can’t say for sure. Beast knows, but in typical Beast fashion, she doesn’t give up that information without a fight.

While Faith Hunter isn’t the first UF author to write about an indigenous protagonist, she is one of the only writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading who incorporates Native American lore into her world building from the series’ outset. It’s pretty clear to me that Hunter is committed to the search for Jane’s heritage and an exploration of indigenous cultures; Jane isn’t a UF protagonist who happens to be Native American, she is a Native American who happens to be a UF protagonist. Hunter clearly did her research, incorporating elements of Native American mythology, religion, and language into her world.

Vampire lore is also refreshingly original in Skinwalker, a pretty difficult feat to manage these days. Sure, there’s the standard burning in the sun, sexual aspects of feeding, and aversion to crosses. But these vamps (or Mithrans, as they prefer to be called), have a complex hierarchy for themselves and even their human employees/meals. And Jane is in for the shock of her life when she discovers that maybe vamps aren’t so averse to crosses after all. Could they even be…Christians? You’ll have to read it to find out!

Skinwalker also boasts an impressive cast of secondary characters who support Jane and Beast in their hunt for the rogue. Jane’s friend Molly – and Molly’s adorable daughter Angie – were particular standouts. Of course, there are also some pretty hot men orbiting around Jane, because it wouldn’t be UF if there weren’t. Romance haters, fear not! This series seems like it will be pretty light on the romance but high on sexual tension. I have my opinions on who would be a good match for Jane and who she should give a swift kick to the head but I’m guessing it’ll be at least a few more books down the road before we see her decisions. Jane’s way more focused on self-discovery than romance.

The only real complaint I have about Skinwalker is in regard to its pacing. Hunter’s commitment to world building necessitated a few too many detours from the actual plot and sometimes caused things to lag a bit. Several times the hunt for the rogue was stalled for two or three chapters to delve into Jane’s past, so much so that sometimes I forgot what the mystery actually was.

That minor reservation aside, Jane Yellowrock is one of the most promising new-to-me UF heroines I’ve had the pleasure of reading about in a long while. If you’re already a devotee of the subgenre then you should jump on in, and if you’re not? Well, I wouldn’t be surprised if this shit-talking, motorcycle-riding, small-child loving badass won you over.

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  • *touchdown dance* Oh yeaaah . . . LOL. SO glad you liked this, Danya. I absolutely love Jane and Beast (and Angie and Molly and . . . ). I love the push/pull between them, and I love how authentic not only the Native American folklore is, but how Beast interacts with Jane as well–“many more than five,” her aversion to raw, cold meat, vs the thrill of the hunt, etc. I love the hard and fast rules of what governs the creature populations, I just love it. This series has it’s ups and downs like any series, but for me at least, it’s mostly UP. Fantastic review!

    • This was seriously an amazing recommendation!! Couldn’t get enough of it. I totally forgot to mention this, but I agree: I love how Jane’s transformations are governed by how much mass she can take/deposit. Such a great idea! I’m very excited to see where the story goes…and for more Bruiser, of course! 😀

  • That’s great, I love UFs with promising heroines. And I can get on board with light romance, high sexual tension 🙂

    ~Mogsy

    • Agreed! Sometimes it’s nice to have that flirtatious banter without all the angst that inevitably comes from a full-blown romance.

  • ”Several times the hunt for the rogue was stalled for two or three
    chapters to delve into Jane’s past, so much so that sometimes I forgot
    what the mystery actually was.”

    Hahha, awww, that’s really something if you forgot what the mystery is. Except for the pacing and plot detours, it seems pretty exciting. Great review! 😀

    Lola @ Hit or Miss Books

    • Thanks, Lola! I really enjoyed this one. Sometimes the plot lagged a bit but definitely worth the pacing issues!

  • One of the more interesting UF set ups I have seen. But I rarely move into the genre. Perhaps if my library gets it on audio though.

    • It’s definitely heavier on the world building aspect and lighter on the police procedural side of UF. You might like it, actually!

  • I really liked this book which is a shame because the next two kinda fell short IMO, and I haven’t had the urge to continue this series since. I love reading Beast’s POV, and the heroine + secondary characters were amazing in this installment. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the next few more than I. Great review!

    • Oh no! Well, that’s good to know before diving into the next few installments. It is pretty surprising how many books are in the series considering SKinwalker was only published five years ago! Maybe Hunter should slow her writing down a bit, haha. I totally agree, Carmel: secondary characters make or break a UF series for me and they were perfect in this one. You’ll definitely be hearing how I feel about the rest of the series. 😉

  • Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    OK, she looks like a total badass. And I like that you said she’s more focused on self-discovery than romance.

    • RIGHT?! Plus how satisfying is it that the cover isn’t white-washed? I could definitely see you enjoying this series. 🙂

  • Tammy

    I’ve heard great things about this series, and now I’m convinced that I need to read it! Awesome review, with the new UF kick I’m on, this should definitely be on my list:-)

  • I’ve been meaning to try this series for a long time. This review may push me over the edge…LOL. Great review, Danya. I really want to read more about Jane and Beast.

    • Hahaha, excellent! I’ve always wanted my reviews to act as a gateway drug to epic UF. Jane and Beast are awesome, I hope you love them!

  • I’m so excited that you enjoyed this one even with the pacing issues. I can tell you that the later books move so much faster or at least I feel like they do for me. Sometimes I would feel like it was non stop action.

    • YAY! Oh, I’m excited. I think I may even be giddy. You better believe that when I go into work tomorrow I’ll be ordering the rest of the series for myself – I mean the library. 😉

  • I started reading the book and…DAMN it’s good! Not really into 1% romance thought but it’s at least there! Can’t wait until the romance kicks in!

    • Faith Hunter is such a great UF writer! I know what you mean about the lack of romance, though – it doesn’t become really important for the story until much later in the series.