Saturday, December 19, 2009

Skinners Book 1: Blood Blade – review

Author: Marcus Pelegrimas

First published: 2009

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Welcome to the nightmare…

There is a world you don’t know about, inhabited by supernatural creatures of darkness – vampires, werewolves, and all manner of savage, impossible beasts that live for terror and slaughter and blood. They are all around us but you cannot see them, for knowledge of their presence – so close and hungry – would surely drive any ordinary human insane. But for centuries a special breed of hunter has kept the monsters at bay, preventing them from breaking through the increasingly fragile barriers protecting our mortal realm. These guardians are called SKINNERS.

But beware… for there are very few of them left.

The review: I was lucky enough to win the second book in the skinner series from a draw at Vampchix. Unfortunately I do dislike jumping into a series part way and thus bought myself part 1, Blood Blade. The review of book 2, Howling Legion, will come later.

The first thing to note is that the blurb, whilst giving us a little background to the world that Pelegrimas draws, gives us nothing on the actual story and the characters involved therein. This is probably appropriate, at the end of the day, but let us say that this concerns a man named Cole. Cole is a video game designer but is distracted, close to burn out. His boss, and friend, Jason suggests a vacation.

Cole takes him up on the offer and, clearly searching for something In his life puts his not quite girlfriend on hold and takes up an extreme vacation in the Canadian wilderness. Having only just arrived the lodge is attacked by a full blood (I will explain). As the almost indestructible beast attacks Cole notices that only two of the men there seem capable of fighting the beast – nevertheless Cole joins in and, having been injured, comes round to find a massacre. Gerald, one of the two men, survives long enough to ask Cole to take his satellite phone, call a certain number, ask for Paige and get a rune carved dagger to her. Cole is drawn in to the world of the skinners.

If it all seems a little convenient, it is. The biggest problem I had with the book was the fact that I really didn’t buy the characters. Cole is a video game designer, looking for something and finds himself becoming a warrior protecting humanity from the supernatural. I didn’t buy that, it sounded like wish fulfilment rather than characterisation. The fact that neither Cole nor the super sassy, sexy Paige are developed as characters in a meaningful way does not help. They are fairly stereotyped and flat.

This is the main criticism, there are others though. I mentioned a full blood and said I’d get to what it is… well that is what the book does. Rather than develop the background over a while there is an attempt to inject a sense of mystery by not revealing anything for quite a stretch of the book, that fails because it doesn’t ring true again. Cole would have been told earlier what a full blood is, instead his question is constantly deflected.

Where the book succeeds is in its sense of adventure and (when it gets there eventually) in its take on the genre. We’ll start with lore first. Full bloods are werewolves, though they are clearly much more monstrous than the movie equivalent, and they are born as such. Half breeds are humans infected by a full blood and mongrels are any other form of shapeshifter (full bloods hate mongrels).

The vampires are called nymar – named after the spore that infects them, latches to the heart, takes blood to survive (from victims) and gives the replacement fluids that the host uses instead of blood. They have three sets of fangs – two upper and one lower – reproduce via spore infection and can spit venom that, if it gets in the eyes, allows for a mind control (by spreading down the optic nerve to the brain). A stake (or bullet) to the spore will kill them if it destroys the spore and, should the nymar be beheaded the spore will suck the host dry before trying to find a new host (hence crumbling to dust).

The internal organs all merge into one and all this isn’t new, per se, the spore, for instance, reminded me in parts of Necroscope and, to a lesser degree, the Strain, the fact that the big bad vampire in this had a bone casing round his heart was reminiscent of Blade 2. However the way it was all put together, the skinner weapons (that I won’t spoil) and the loose pecking order in the supernatural world made for an interesting premise that was worthwhile.

Also worthwhile was the sense of adventure – aided by well written action sequences. There was the spirit, if not the substance, of Boys Own Adventures or maybe pulp fiction. The adventure was primary and the characters secondary and this worked well enough to distract from the flat characterisation. If the adventure of the entire thing had not been as engrossing as it was then this would have dropped below average in score. As it was, I read the book and enjoyed myself as I read, only to become doubtful when I thought about the book afterwards. 5.5 out of 10 for the immediate experience and I believe worth moving on to book 2, where I hope the characterisation is fleshed out.


The Dirge Of Gabriel said...

This book does sound interesting. As soon as I read about the spores I instantly thought of the Necroscope books too, though their fang formation on the vampires seems weird.

You said you wouldn't spoil the Skinners weapons, but the book is called Blood Blade, so I assuming that their weapon pumps/drains the blood out of the monsters to kill them?

I agree that some computer nerd becoming a hunter does seem a bit too convenient. Also the characters wanting to go on a vacation to the wilderness and encountering Werewolves is also quite reminiscent of the Howling movies, though it's funny in that the sequel is called HOWLING Legion.

But I guess the author wrote a horror the way he likes it, and it didn't seem to be a Buffy/Anita/Sookie/Twilight rip-off, so props to that...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabe, I can reveal that the characterisation gets better in book 2 - that review coming up in the next week.

The Blood Blade isn't actually a Skinner's weapon, but one made by gypsies to effect full bloods. (called a blood blade, I guess, because it effects full bloods.) It is central to both books but not the weapon to which I refer. I like what he did with the skinners' actual main weapon to still not want to spoil it.

It certainly isn't a rip off of those you mentioned, it is urban fantasy but does things its own way.

MadeInScotland said...

I don't know if you got to the Hammer Exhibition in Shoreditch?

In any event, my Yellow Vampire graffiti commission from Pure Evil has arrived and is well hung.

It's a familiar picture, and whilst it was one of his oft used stencils, he was officially asked to produce this piece for Hammer...

I love it!

Made in Scotland: Yellow Vampire And Scotch Broth

Here's to sleepless nights beneath the gaze of the PoD.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

MadeInScotland, no I didn't get to the exhibition, unfortunately I had no reason to be up in London... However the stencil looks fabulous, it really does.

MadeInScotland said...

I've always been drawn to the vampire. I've always been terrified by the possibility.

It causes me nightmares, and so the challenge of a vampire looking down on me, nay the PoD, is relly freaky.

And the thing is, it's a huge pic...

ahoj MX