Published: October 1st 2013 by Strange Chemistry
Format: Paperback, 387 pages
Genres: Paranormal, Urban Fantasy
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When Meg witnesses the dying moments of a shapeshifting fox and is given a beautiful and powerful stone, her life changes forever. She is plunged into the dark world of the Skulk, a group of shapeshifting foxes.
As she learns about the other groups of shapeshifters that lurk around London – the Rabble, the Horde, the Cluster and the Conspiracy – she becomes aware of a deadly threat against all the shapeshifters. They must put aside all their enmity and hostility and fight together to defeat it.
Skulk is a début YA novel about shapeshifters, but there are no werewolves here 😀 In this urban London there are foxes, ravens, rats, spiders and butterflies. Yup, butterflies. I think Skulk is a daring novel, pushing the boundaries of what is usually offered to YA readers, but I wonder if it’s a little too different.
For example, our protagonist is Meg Banks – the daughter of a senator and a CEO who goes to a private school for the wealthy and is surrounded by the future leaders of Britain. Her mother is shockingly abusive towards her, while her father remains indifferent to the injustices occurring under his nose. Meg’s friends are extroverted where she is introverted, and I can’t see why Meg became friends with them in the first place. So, for a long time into the book, it seems that Meg is surrounded by people she could care less about. Meg’s night-life as a graffiti artist also bothered me because to my mind it’s very wrong, and I still don’t really understand why she does it (aside from the usual, oppressed artist excuse). It’s clearly not a cry for attention from her family, so … what is it? Meg isn’t every-girl, in fact, she’s about as far from every-girl as you can get; I thought that I would never understand her, but I ended up liking her well enough. I think that the author has approached the character well, giving her some background and gravitas, but I feel it may alienate potential readers because it took me a long time to feel an affinity with Meg.
One of the reasons behind this feeling of disconnection is the plot. Everything is too convenient, too contrived, for there to be any feeling of reality to this book. There are a host of characters who come into the story to impart some critical knowledge and then are killed – there’s a lot of collateral damage in this book. It is also disconcerting to note that the deaths do not seem to affect Meg: she seems to go on fine after the deaths of people close to her, and many times simply forgot that she was grieving. It may tie in to the fact that Meg isn’t sure she really cares about anyone in her life, even her parents and friends, but it’s frightening to read a character who’s so cold.
Where the plot let me down, I enjoyed the world building a lot. The underground urban London landscape is vivid, and richly described. I like the five clans, the interplay between them and their histories. I love the way they named: a Skulk of foxes, a Horde of rats, a Rabble of butterflies and so forth. It’s clever 🙂 I like that the animals aren’t the traditional shifter affairs but for the life of me I can’t figure out why being a butterfly could be useful in any way. And spiders? ICK. The world of the shifters is interesting, although major elements take an unnecessarily long time to develop. The importance of the stones is clear from the way that Meg feels irrationally protective of it, but it’s a long, long time before the situation is made any clearer. And this is actually the whole trend of the book: the world building elements are there, but are introduced so late into the novel that they will only prove useful to the most dedicated of readers.
I admired the well-drawn secondary characters in the novel; too often the secondary cast are stereotypical and flat, but Rosie Best handles a cast of diverse characters well. Characters of different ethnicity, socio-economic backgrounds and personalities come together in the cultural melting pot that is the underground scene in London. While James presents a hundred different mysteries, and Don, the alpha-leader of the Skulk, annoyed me to no end, I liked the Rabble (the butterfly-shifters) a lot. As Meg points out, they are more organised and have more cohesion than the group she’s become a part of, and I liked that about them even if they are butterflies :p
Another thing I liked about Skulk is the romance – it’s very much in the background of the story and quite sweet. Actually, since the love interest was introduced quite late into the book, I started thinking that there wasn’t going to be any romance. Which meant that I was pleasantly surprised when there was a development. I like that this romance isn’t centered on a creepy stalker guy but on someone who has a lot in common with Meg, and has proven that he respects and cares about her a lot.
I liked Skulk and will be looking forward to its sequel (there had better be one!) with eagerness. I think it’s a daring novel about shapeshifters and a girl who doesn’t really fit in anywhere, but it could have been a little more sophisticated. However, Rosie Best’s début YA has a lot going for it, and I think she’s going to be an author to watch!