Author: Christian Baines
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
Length: 151 Pages
Category: Urban Fantasy, Horror
At a Glance: Christian Baines kept me on the hook in the slow and clever revelation of Skin’s characters, and then threw out a surprise twist at the end that was a nice payoff to my perseverance.
Reviewed By: Lisa
Blurb: Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter.
Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed.
When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge.
Review: “He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster,” is one of Friedrich Nietzsche most famous quotes. Of course, he continues from there to talk about gazing long into the abyss. It’s a theme author Christian Baines delivers in his latest novel, Skin, and he made my perseverance pay off, as I had little to no clue where this book was going for the longest time; then, when I finally had the ‘what’ figured out, I still couldn’t suss out the ‘how’ of it. When that was finally revealed, and it made about as much sense as a story such as this can make, I had to give a mental ovation to the author for not only keeping me on the hook but making my patience and tenacity worth the while.
Some of the characters in this novel are portrayed as rather despicable people. Racist, homophobic, misogynistic, violent and foul-mouthed, this is not a book with a clear hero to root for—there is no one person I felt truly deserving of a happy ending by book’s end. Kyle becomes more an antihero, Marc is elusive, and the one likable character, Antoine, meets his untimely end just as he and Kyle begin what might have been a lovely romance. It’s made clear from the moment of Antoine’s sudden and violent death that this wasn’t going to be a light or cheerful read. There were some characters, however, whom I felt got what they deserved, which speaks with extreme eloquence to my sense of karmic justice.
At its core, this is a tale of murder and revenge, and the author makes no apologies for these characters or their antagonistic roles in the story. This novel, by virtue of its characterizations, might make you admit to your own inclination to find people such as Ash, for example, more than a little off-putting (understatement). His internalized homophobia informs his hostility towards the men in the story as much as his bigotry is worn like a Confederate birthright, which plays into a current events realism. These aren’t overt political statements as much as the author being opportunistic and using this brand of ugly to good effect in the overall storyline. There was plenty in Skin that made me uncomfortable, and that was the point. I wasn’t supposed to feel good about what was playing out on the page, so success there. It’s characters such as these, in fact, that Wilde might have referred to if he’d been talking about men whose realistic depictions “show the world its own shame.”
What keeps Skin from being anything but a run of the mill urban horror novel is its setting. There is nothing colorless or commonplace about the city of New Orleans or the Louisiana Voodoo the city is known for, which figures prominently as the plot unfolds. It seems that I learn something new about New Orleans in every book I read with the city as its setting, and it’s obvious the author did his homework in the writing of this novel. NOLA isn’t only Mardi Gras, jazz, beignets, and crawfish. It’s ghosts and spellcraft, has a seedy underbelly all its own, and is rich in its own culture and history, too, which lends itself in the best way to this brand of fiction. I appreciated the local flavor Baines gave to the book.
This book wasn’t released in time for Halloween, but there’s never a bad time for some fresh hell sort of horror. Telling the story in alternating points of view worked to purposely confound me and keep me guessing. The revealing moments in Skin are presented in a taut pace and with descriptive narrative that makes those scenes come to life in a deadly and fearsome way. I loved the final plot twist, which I didn’t see coming, at all, and was a great cap-off to all the weird and violence that led up to it. This is not a novel for the squeamish nor those looking for romantic escapism. Skin pushes boundaries and exposes the good and the bad of a city unlike any other in the world, while playing up some of the things that makes her unique and then contrasting them with the violence wrought by her lesser humans.
It’d be a lie if I said I liked this book for all the usual reasons. I liked it for all the unusual reasons Christian Baines gave me to love hating some of its characters, and feeling horrified by their crimes, and feeling validated by the cosmic payback heaped upon them. And, it’s certainly made me think twice about being happy in my own skin.
You can buy Skin here: