Review: Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

SkinwalkerSkinwalker by Faith Hunter (Jane Yellowrock #1)

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Publisher: Roc on May 22, 2009

Source: Purchased

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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.

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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