The old saying goes that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But who really has time to read 100,000 words before deciding to buy a book? No one, really. So readers will inevitably base their book-purchasing decisions, on the cover.
This is what happened when I saw Skin of the Wolf‘s red and black design with the wolf metal carvings. One look, and I knew it was a book I had to read, though I had no idea what it was about.
I was not disappointed. This is the second 5-star book I have read in a long time, which was a nice followup after Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu.
This book is the sequel to Blood of the Lamb, which I haven’t read, yet. Even so, Skin of the Wolf stands well on its own, and I had no issues following the story, or the references to the previous adventure.
Here’s why this was such an amazing read!
The book is based in wintry New York City, and follows the adventures of two Noantris (vampires), two Shifters (werewolves), a priest, a few wealthy connoisseurs of the art world, and several Native Americans.
When the story starts, Tahkwheso, christened Edward, is reflecting on the Ohtahyohnee, a wolf mask he believes will help him fulfill his destiny. He also thinks about his twin brother, Gata, christened Michael, who he believes has neglected his true purpose to become a part of the White World.
On a cold evening, Livia Pietro, a vampire, goes to see the famed Ohtahyohnee mask at the Sotheby’s gallery. When she holds the mask, she laments that it cannot be real, as her vampire senses caught nothing extraordinary from the mask. She confesses her suspicions to her friend, Katherine, who also works at the gallery, though she does not say why she has her doubts.
Shortly after the showing, another young woman who works at the gallery, is killed. Though the wolf mask is left behind, the police believe it played a role in the murder. Later that night, while Michael is strolling through the park with his lover, Spencer George, the two are attacked by a wolf, Michael’s brother.
Spencer intervenes to save Michael, and is injured, but immediately recovers, forcing him to reveal to Michael that he is a vampire. He also witnesses Michael change into a wolf to protect him, forcing Michael to confess that he is a Shifter — knowledge that he claims usually ends in the death of the witness.
On the night of the attack, Spencer George had made plans to meet with Livia Pietro, and her friend, Father Thomas Kelly. On learning of the attack, and Michael’s capabilities, the three offer their help to Michael, to help him find his brother and put an end to the trouble he has started.
Meanwhile, detective Keewayhakeequayoo, christened Charlotte, is put on the case due to the Native American elements of the murder. At first suspecting Michael and his friends, her sharp instincts nonetheless puts her in Edward’s path.
Skin of the Wolf has very distinct characters, no matter how minor a role they play. I will only mention the main ones below.
Tahkwehso, (christened Edward)
As a child, Edward learned that both he and his twin brother, Michael, were werewolves — a secret they swore to take to the grave. Unfortunately, the secrecy surrounding the identity of Shifters made for a very lonely upbringing, as they knew no others.
Edward becomes obsessed with not just finding fellow Shifters, but also going against tradition, by attempting to Awaken the adults. To do this, he needs the famed Ohtahyohnee mask to bring about successful transformations.
Livia is an Italian art connoisseur and academic living in New York City. She is also the first vampire we are introduced to in Skin of the Wolf. Throughout the book, Livia displays fierce loyalty, quick thinking, a curious mind, and a willingness to get her hands dirty on behalf of her friends.
Katherine is Livia’s friend, and a worker at the Sotheby’s, the art gallery showing the Ohtahyohnee wolf mask. Katherine also knows a lot more about the mask’s origins than she lets on, and carries a heavy secret that puts her in grave danger by the end of the story.
Father Thomas Kelly
A Jesuit priest, Father Kelly’s faith was shaken in Blood of the Lamb, after he discovered the existence of vampires, and his Church’s involvement in Noantri history. He nonetheless decides to carry on with his work in the Church, a decision that pleases his friend, Livia.
Throughout the book, Father Kelly finds himself pushing the limits of his faith; and not least of his challenges, is his obvious attraction to Livia.
Grata, (christened Michael)
Like his brother, Michael is a werewolf. Also like Edward, Michael has dedicated his life to finding other Shifters. Michael, however, uses science to do this, a method that is frowned upon by Edward and his friend, Abornazine, born Peter van Vliet.
A proud and independent man, Michael must learn to accept the help of his friends, or risk losing his brother, and bringing shame and death to the Native American community.
An art connoisseur with expensive tastes, Spencer George shows as much fierce loyalty as Livia does. His loyalty to Michael, however, is influenced by his love for his partner. This love compels him to throw himself in harm’s way to help Michael, regardless of the consequences. This saves Michael’s life twice in the novel, and both times, from the clutches of Edward.
Abornazine, (born Peter van Vliet)
Peter is a wealthy White man who simultaneously rejected his privileged upbringing, and fell in love with the ways of Native Americans. Under the tutelage of an old and ailing Native American, he learned to perform the Awakening Ceremony, and joins forces with Edward to steal the mask, so they can use it to find and awaken other Shifters.
Keewayhakeequayoo (christened Charlotte)
Charlotte is a well-respected police officer in New York City. As the Indian at the precinct, she often finds herself placed on cases involving Native Americans, for political reasons. Her assignment to the murder case at Sotheby’s is no different.
While she adamantly refuses to fall into Indian stereotypes, she nonetheless accepts that her success as a police officer often comes from following instincts and that gut-feeling, logic cannot always explain. These are the sharp instincts that send her sniffing in the direction of Michael and his friends… and his brother.
Born to British parents, Matt has spent the greater part of his life trying to assimilate into American culture; even going as far as to consciously rid himself of an English accent.
Despite being a police officer, he is heavily invested in conspiracy theories, and is the first to theorise that a werewolf committed the Sotheby’s murder, and that Michael and his friends are not human.
Ironically, when proof of this occurs right before his eyes, he fails to notice, and replaces his own theories with more logical explanations.
Race is a constant theme that comes up throughout the book. While this focuses overwhelmingly on the differences between Whites and Native Americans, there are several mentions of Blacks and Asians, as well. In fact, no one’s ethnic background goes unmentioned in this book.
Another prominent theme is the call of home. Throughout the novel, the Indians living in New York City often think back to life on the rez, and question whether or not they have lost their true self to the White World. Michael often faces this accusation from Edward, who sees science as a White man’s work. Additionally, Charlotte’s Indian name literally means, Returns to Her Homeland, a destiny she fulfills by the end of the book.
Family life plays an important role in Skin of the Wolf, as well. This is mostly illustrated in the relationship between Edward and Michael, who struggle to get along. The animosity is mostly pushed by Edward, who resents his brother for not taking his rightful place as leader of the pack.
Finally, friendship is a powerful theme that brings Michael, Livia, Father Kelly, and Spencer together on a journey that not just puts their lives in danger, but also threatens to expose the secrets of their abilities.
One of the most interesting things about the writing of this book is that Sam Cabot is not one person, but two: a man and a woman. Sam Cabot is the pseudonym shared by S. J. Rozan and Carlos Dews. But you could never tell that by reading the book, as there is one distinct voice.
Another interesting tactic in the book is chapter lengths. There were some chapters that were only two pages or so. This was done to separate the varying perspectives in the book. Once I got over the length (or lack thereof) of the chapters, it made perfect sense.
The writing is clear and concise, a wonderful balance of functional male writing, with female attention to detail. I also thoroughly enjoyed their treatment of the same-sex relationship between Michael and Spencer.
The book does lean heavily on a lot of stereotypes. Of course, the vampires were mostly based in Italy, and an Italian vampire in New York, was totally expected.
Additionally, wolves are always associated with Native American culture, and I think every book I have ever read with a werewolf, has one named Michael. The last one I read like that was Anne Rice’s Wolf Chronicles.
Even so, the stereotypes fit perfectly into the story, in such a way that another route would not have made sense (minus this fixation authors have on naming werewolves, Michael!).
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and could hardly put it down. Each new chapter was a new perspective, and a new adventure. I recommend it to all lovers of vampire and werewolf books, and can’t wait to read Blood of the Lamb.
About the Reviewer
Alexis Chateau is an activist, writer, and explorer. Follow her stories of trial and triumph at www.alexischateau.com.