Skulk by Rosie Best – Advance Review [Bane of Kings]

Skulk

Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, writes an Advance Review of the young adult urban fantasy novel Skulk, written by Rosie Best and published by Strange Chemistry Books, imprint of Adult SFF Publisher Angry Robot Books, released on October 1 in the USA and October 3 in the UK. 

“An excellent read. Unpredictable and enthralling with a death count that most YA Authors never reach in entire series, let alone one novel, Rosie Best makes a stunning arrival to the Urban Fantasy scene delivering a fantastic read that you shouldn’t pass up on.” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

To some, Meg Banks’ life might look perfect – she lives in a huge house in West London, goes to a prestigious school, and has famous parents. Only Meg knows the truth: her tyrannical mother rules the house and her shallow friends can talk about nothing but boys and drinking. Meg’s only escape is her secret life as a graffiti artist.

While out tagging one night, Meg witnesses the dying moments of a fox… a fox that shapeshifts into a man. As he dies, he gives Meg a beautiful and mysterious gemstone. It isn’t long before Meg realises that she’s also inherited his power to shift and finds an incredible new freedom in fox form.

She is plunged into the shadowy underworld of London, the territory of the five warring groups of shapeshifters – the Skulk, the Rabble, the Conspiracy, the Horde, and the Cluster. Someone is after her gemstone, however, someone who can twist nature to his will. Meg must discover the secret of the stone and unite the shapeshifters before her dream of freedom turns into a nightmare.

I’ll admit I wasn’t feeling that I would enjoy this book going into it. I requested the review copy on a bit of a whim, when I was in need of books to read during my Holiday/Vacation to France a few weeks ago, when I managed to get access to Wifi on my Kindle Fire. And well, I went into it not expecting much – the book had ‘paranormal romance’ written all over it, and as you’re probably aware, paranormal romance is something I don’t do. However, to my surprise – I found that my expectations that I went into Skulk with were not just wrong, in fact – they couldn’t be more wrong. Whilst there is a relationship – it’s something that doesn’t feel like a cliche, coming across as fresh and doesn’t fall into the trap of being insta-love. This helps Meg Banks, the lead character – match up with the likes of other strong female characters that we’ve seen from previous Strange Chemistry books, and even outclasses them in some cases. However, it’s safe to say that Meg reaches the ranks of Julie (Poltergeeks), Gene (Pantomime) and Kyra (The Woken Gods)  – all of whom are awesome female leads. She’s therefore among my favourite Strange Chemistry characters that I’ve read to date – allowing for a unique read that sees the book move along at a very fast pace.

SkulkMeg’s character is interesting. Like Tom Pollock’s Beth from The City’s Son, she has a secret life as a graffiti artist. This plays a big role in the book, as Best actively uses the graffiti-angle of the book successfully and manages to weave it into the overall narrative without interfering or the weakening of the overall concept. Meg’s first person narrative is consistently strong all the way through the book, and this works both to the advantage and disadvantage of Skulk. It allows Best to get us used to a confident, strong, likeable and interesting lead character – but one thing that this book suffers from is the massive supporting cast. It seems almost inevitable with a massive cast that not everybody is going to come across as well rounded or engaging as Meg, but you can tell that Best certainly tries to flesh out as many characters as she can. There’s Mo, one of the key male characters in the book, and James, the camp jewel thief. Both of them belong to different Shapeshifter groups. Mo to the Rabble (butterflies) and James is an exile from the Skulk, the main group which Meg joins, because of the stubborn leader Don, who unfortunately falls into the one-dimensional typical jerk leader category. Aside from a couple of other characters, the majority of the cast, such as Meg’s friends who aren’t clued in on the shapeshifter society that she has stumbled into suffer from not really having the page time to develop enough to make us care about them.

The book, as one would expect with a high-death count, is pretty unpredictable. Best manages to make it weave along at a very fast pace, easily planting this novel in the page-turning category. It’s a quick and captivating read, that you should blitz through. Skulk is compelling as well, and while there is a clear line between evil and good – it never really falls into the ‘grey’ category when it comes to morality – but that doesn’t mean you won’t be surprised as not all allegiances are set in stone.  Whilst the overall concept may also need a bit of suspension of disbelief in order for you to enjoy, all you really have to do is accept that shape shifters are real here. Best writes a strong, distinctive portrayal of the characters when they’re in animal form, and the scenes where Meg was in her animal form was interesting to read about. The book allows for a variety of shapeshifters, Foxes, Ravens, Rats, Butterflies and Spiders. As with multiple groups, you can expect that they don’t all get on very well – differences and rivalries are explored as the book goes, serving as an interesting dynamic as well as a way to introduce more tension when you find that the enemy is pretty much presented as a unified front, with spies pretty much everywhere.

As a result, Skulk is one of the most unpredictable reads from a Young Adult book that I’ve read in a while. It’s a lot of fun, and whilst I feel that there was a wasted opportunity with the cover, as it really lacks the incentive to draw you in,and I probably wouldn’t have picked this book up in a bookshelf without a lot of praise. In fact, one of the few reasons why I gave this book a chance was because it is a London-set urban fantasy, which I am a complete sucker for, and the fact that it’s a Strange Chemistry book. Like Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry have failed to produce a title that I haven’t already liked so far, and with Jonathan L. Howard’s Katya’s World sitting on my TBR pile, I can safely say that this is one publisher that you should keep an eye on. Much like Angry Robot, Strange Chemistry are producing a set of books that are normally exceptionally high quality, doing wonders in the YA subgenre. Skulk is another addition to the ranks of the mighty Strange Chemistry titles – and one that I can recommend to all fans of Young Adult books.  Certainly worth your time.

VERDICT: 4/5

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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