by Wendy N Wagner, fantasy (2014)
Paizo, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-60125-616-4
Skinwalkers takes everyone to the Ironbound Archipelago of the fantasy setting of Golarion, where the folks in this area live like Vikings in our world. Our heroine Jendara has long turned her back to her people's ways, however, due to the tragedies in her past. Her father, along with most of the folks from her home town, was butchered in a violent massacre by what seems like cannibal raiders, and her sister has been MIA since. Later, her husband was killed by slavers. Jendara spent time being a pirate, but now she just wants a quiet life of raising her son and taking part in trade runs among the islands. She is still a warrior, however, so she and her friends occasionally take part in hunts to take down beasts that terrorize the folks they come across.
One fine day, however, she stumbles upon what is left of a settlement, the people butchered and mostly eaten in a manner that reminds her of the way her family and old friends were killed. She realizes that she can't walk away this time - she has to find out who is behind this and, since she has a feeling that the people who killed these people are the same ones that killed her people, avenge the ones she has lost.
Skinwalkers starts out really good. There is tense action drama right out of the gate, along with lots of death-defying tension, and tough gal ass-kicking. The secondary characters all get some decent character development, so they are not just "Warrior #12" or "Cleric #56". The author's narrative is gripping, and I never get the impression that this story is a mere adaptation of some tabletop RPG session on the fly like some books in this line tend to be.
Unfortunately, the author can't sustain the momentum. The main reason for this is that what passes for twists in this story are telegraphed too early and too obviously. There is no surprise in this story, and when the bad guy's identity is revealed, I went "Called that!" instead of "Ooh!" Even the heroine's angst is standard action tale stuff, although I have to say it is nice that the heroine is the one with such baggage for a change. This is a heroine-centric tale, which makes the fact that the heroine can really deliver a cool thing indeed, although it also also suffers from the "only one chick in the limelight" syndrome.
The language utilized in this story can also break me out of the immersion experience. The author takes pains to create a pretty authentic fantasy setting here, only to make me scratch my head when the characters use words closely tied up to contemporary usage of today. For example, "manpower" and "babysitting" are dropped in the conversations of the characters in this story, making them seem more like hassled career people of Earth than Viking-like warriors of a fantasy world. And, for all the author's efforts to incorporate Viking elements in this setting, she just has to have the heroine's name shortened to "Jenny", making me groan and bury my face in my palm for a moment there.
At the end of the day, I feel that Skinwalkers would have been better off being a shorter story. It's still a very readable story, all things considered, but my interest in the story wanes as the tale progresses. The author's bewildering tendency to have her characters speak like modern day folks from Earth after taking care to create an authentic fantasy setting also leave me wondering what the deal is.
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