The Skin — J.E. Hannaford
The Skin caught my eye during the first round of SPFBO8. I’d heard wonderful things about it, and while the title should have given me an idea of what it was about, I went into the story blindly, with nothing but a title, a cover, and word-of-mouth.
First, for the sake of transparency, I don’t read a lot of shapeshifting stories. I don’t actively dislike them, but it takes me a bit longer to get into stories that involve shapeshifters. I thought that would be the case here, especially since I had no idea what selkies were (lol), but after the first chapter—and after googling selkies—I got swept away by the story.
What I loved about the book was finding out about the world as I went. As I said, I had no idea what it was about going in, so piecing together bits of the world and its history was a lot of fun (and for me, personally, the highlight). I really enjoyed how information revealed itself naturally, without being unloaded on to the reader. Once the momentum started, it was just easy to keep going and experience the story through the characters’ POVs.
I liked how, despite being set in a world in which humans destroyed everything, it wasn’t preachy about it. Had the book taken that route, I would have 100% understood why, but I think it would have taken away from the story. Instead, the reader is trusted with quite a lot, which worked well for me. I was left to build my own impression of humans in the greater context of the book world. Sometimes we get a few humorous digs (“HOW can humans eat this?!”), but aside from that, the reader can piece together for themselves just how destructive humans can be—without the author saying it outright. I think that’s quite powerful, and I appreciated it a lot.
The writing was crisp and easy to follow. A wonderful balance between short & sweet and packed with meaning. I had no trouble piecing things together. One exception that left me a bit confused was that sometimes, I didn’t know whose POV we were in. The story and worldbuilding kept me going until I figured out what was happening (lol), and I finally caught up enough to ride the last wave home.
All in all, The Skin was such a fun ride. Despite normally not being my kind of story, I had a blast with it. It was a great reminder to step past your reading comfort zone. I did get a bit confused with the different POVs—which did soften the impact of the reveal a little—but it did not take away from my overall enjoyment of the book.
Key words to help you decide: first-person POV, multiple POVs, shapeshifting fantasy, selkies, humans vs. nature, maritime folklore, marine life, found families, sketchy ships (actual ships, not pairings)