Dreadful Skin

October 17, 2016 at 6:00 pm (Reads) (, )

skinDreadful Skin by Cherie Priest

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I have Dreadful Skin as a part of the Cherie Priest Bundle ebook, and I went into it thinking it was a novella. I was surprised to find it’s actually novel-length, and then more surprised to find the book is actually a collection of three shorter, related works. The main character, Eileen Callaghan, is what connects the three stories. Eileen is trying to track down a werewolf.

The first story, “The Wreck of the Mary Byrd“, is hard to follow because Priest writes the story in the first person, but features multiple characters this way. When she introduces them, it’s easy to get a handle on them being different, because the first sentence establishes that this is a new character. Later, though, they begin to run together as she doesn’t make it clear at the beginning of each section which character she’s shifting to. The characters’ voices aren’t distinctive enough to tell them apart, and once the reader gets caught up in the story, it’s too easy to think you’re still reading from the first narrator’s perspective when you shift to another speaker. I couldn’t help but think the story would have been better had it been written from just one character’s perspective, not just for ease of reading, but for strength of story. It felt like one central character would have strengthened the work, as short as it is.

“Halfway to Holiness”, the second story, picks up nine years later at a Pentecostal revival, and has a bit more emotion to it, I think because Priest chooses to stick with one character, Eileen herself. It still moves too quickly, through the plot and resolution, and it felt more like it was bridging the gap between the first and third stories. In this story, we learn that Eileen herself is a werewolf, only more in control of her urges than the one she is hunting.

In “Our Lady of the Wasteland and the Hallelujah Chorus”, the third story, we learn that not only is Eileen a werewolf, but also that the one she’s hunting is the one who turned her. I missed both of these points in the first story, but I’ll admit that I might not have been reading as closely as I should have. The whole multiple-first-person-narratives thing might have distracted me from these points.

The last story is the strongest of the three, because it has the length to develop the characters, and Priest shows off her talent for action and adventure that we saw in the Boneshaker novels. It still ends rather abruptly, with the major events resolved, but without the winding down I expect from stories like these. There’s no highlighting the aftermath of the events (all of which would have huge effects on the town in which they take place), and I felt like the story was missing an extra chapter there at the end.

I like Priest as a writer, and I’ve recommended the Boneshaker series to a few readers, but I can’t see myself recommending this book. It’s too disjointed and uneven. Since I know Priest can do better than this, it’s easy to overlook it, but had I read these stories first, I doubt I would have moved on to her other works. As it is, they’re much better reading than this novel.

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