Skin Trade by George R. R. Martin (Review)

Summary

“Skin Trade” is a graphic novel adapted from a short story by George R. R. Martin.

Willie Flambeaux is an asthmatic repo man, a nice guy, and also a werewolf. When a friend of his is killed and appears to have been mangled by an animal, Willie asks another friend, P. I. Randi Wade, for help. Randi’s father was a policeman, and died under similar mysterious circumstances. Together, Randi and Willie seek answers and search for the killer, and in the process uncover dangerous secrets.

Thoughts

At 104 pages long, Skin Trade is brief enough to read in one sitting yet long enough to tell a detailed and complete story. The reader is dropped into the tale in media res. The action is well under way, and the world and characters come into being fully formed.

The characters are complex, and the story pays respect to the old folklore staples (silver bullets, etc) while still achieving a high level of originality.

The art, by the ironically named Mike Wolfer, is top quality. It captures the gothic / noir atmosphere of the setting and brings the action to life with bold lines and violent color.

I would place this graphic novel in the same category as Stephen King’s “Silver Bullet,” and the classically campy “Howling” films.

I enjoyed reading this graphic novel, although I would not place it in my list of all time favorites. It was entertaining, but not particularly exceptional.

It took a while to become acquainted with the characters and the setting, and felt a bit like watching a mid-season episode of an established TV series – you can kind of catch on and get a sense of who’s who and what’s what, but you don’t have the same invested understanding as someone who has watched the show from the beginning. For a short, stand-alone story this can be a drawback, especially for readers who are not already inclined to like the story based on its author or subject.

Recommendations

I would recommend this title to fans of werewolf stories (especially the aforementioned “Silver Bullet” and “The Howling”), and to fans of horror graphic literature.

Contains nudity and graphic violence.

My Rating

  • Story: 3/5
  • Art: 4/5

Details

  • Title: Skin Trade
  • Author: George R. R. Martin; Daniel Abraham
  • Artist: Mike Wolfer
  • Publisher: Avatar Press, July 2014
  • Length: 104 pages
  • Description: 6.5 x 0.4 x 9.9 inches; color illustrations

 

 

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The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert [book review]

 

Summary: Morgan Fletcher is a disfigured recluse living on an isolated country estate with only his housekeeper, Engel, as company.

One day, mysterious children begin to appear at the house. Where they come from and why they are coming is unknown.

Morgan and Engel take the children in and give them a home (as though this is the usual and expected thing to do when strange children appear at one’s door).

Morgan finds the children to be both a source of great happiness and of horror. As he gradually unravels the tangled threads of the children’s purpose and its connection to him, he comes to understand something about his own past and purpose in the world as well.

Thoughts: The Children’s Home is a brief, deceptively simple story featuring elements of surrealism, magical realism, mystery, and horror.

The tone and style suggest what the result might be of a collaborative effort between A. A. Milne and Stephen King, combining the quiet charm of the former with the abrupt violence and insidious unease of the latter.

The plot is vague, and much is left up to the imagination of the reader (i.e. not explained or made clear). I didn’t find the story very enjoyable or interesting, but I did find it worthy of some thought.

I would describe the arc of the story as unsatisfying, like glimpsing a form in mist. Many things are hinted at or suggested, but never made certain. The ending leaves the reader largely in the dark, still groping for explanations. It seems as though the characters discover or learn something, but the reader is never let in on the secret. This provokes the reader to wonder if she’s wasted her time, or if she simply missed something, or if she needs to think about the story differently.

The book never truly becomes anything, which may be the main source of frustration. Rather like someone trying to write a story based on a vague dream, and having filled in the gaps in the background and setting, and peopled it with a cast of characters, still finds it to be little more than an idiosyncratic curiosity – a creation with no point or significance outside itself. Which some might argue is a definition of art.

Conclusion: I would recommend this curious novella only if one’s tastes run to the odd and vague, and the presence of creepy children in a story is viewed as an unqualified asset.

Book Details:

  • Title: The Children’s Home
  • Author: Charles Lambert
  • Date published: January 5, 2016
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Length: 224 pages
  • Format: Hardcover
  • My source: Public library

 

Book Review: The Ruins by Scott Smith

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Summary: Four college graduates take a vacation to Mexico in the late summer.

Amy* and her boyfriend, Jeff, will begin medical school in the fall, while Stacy will be going to grad school to become a social worker. Stacy’s boyfriend, Eric, is planning to teach high school English. While in Cancun, the quartet meet Matthias, a quiet German visiting Mexico with his brother Heinrich, and a trio of Greeks who don’t speak English but who are fun to drink with.

When Matthias’ brother goes missing, the four friends offer to accompany him on his search, and one of the Greeks tags along for fun. What starts out as a fun outing — a little adventure to a minor archeological site — quickly spirals out of control, descending into an ordeal of terror, deprivation, pain, and death.

There’s something about the archeological site — the ruins — that isn’t right. Something insidious, intelligent, and evil that may just be the end of them all.

ThoughtsThe Ruins is basically the literary equivalent of a B sci-fi / horror film. I love B horror films, but…

This is complicated.

I guess when you watch a movie, you’re a little more removed from the characters than you are when you’re reading a book; because the POV in a movie is always that of looking in from behind that fourth wall, whereas in a book the POV can be from anywhere — inside a character’s head, for example. When you’re watching a bad horror movie, it’s easy to be a little detached. You know that some — or sometimes all — of the characters are not going to make it to the credits, and that’s okay. They’re usually somewhat annoying, and it’s easy not to invest in them beyond maybe picking one or two that you personally hope will make it through to the end. Books — at least well-written ones — are different.

I’d say The Ruins is well-written. It’s effective, compelling, engaging, consistent, and gripping. It’s certainly not “high literature,” but it’s a good read.

This means that you see and experience things alongside the characters. You get to know them — whether or not you like them — and this means that what happens to them is more effective in the literal sense — it effects a more potent reaction. Which is a good thing. It means that the horror is more immediate, less removed and objective, a little more uncomfortable. The time and detail possible in a book allow the room necessary for people and places to come to life. The characters are not just disposable cardboard cutouts, as the characters in many horror films seem to be, but are more fully shaded in, fleshed-out people.

That said, I came to dislike all four main characters well before the end of the book. If I were going to write an analysis of this book, I might choose to write about how it seems to say that you can’t escape who you are.

Each character has aspects of their personality that could be seen as flaws, although aren’t necessarily so. Amy is a complainer who doesn’t deal well with discomfort and needs to be part of a group. Stacy is absent-minded, very passive, a daydreamer who has trouble staying grounded and present. Eric is aimless, worried he’s unimportant, unsatisfied with the course his future seems to be on, and maybe wishes he was someone else. Jeff is driven, always planning ahead, ready to take action and do what’s necessary, but also easily fixated on one option and unable to consider others. He is desperate to get to the next step and can’t seem to just let things be as they are.

These various character aspects lead to escalations and disasters as the story progresses.

The other two characters, Matthias the German and “Pablo” the Greek, are less well-developed. The Greek is basically background noise – he’s barely a real person, even in the minds of the other characters, which could be the point. Matthias is probably the most likable character in the book, but he seems to take the role of an observer, looking on from a removed place as the other characters make decisions and choices.

A main theme of the book is definitely barriers, especially barriers that effect communication and understanding, such as language, culture, and emotional barriers. These barriers both facilitate and create the unfortunate occurrences in the story.

Verdicts: I’d definitely recommend this book if you’re a fan of the science fiction / horror genre, especially if you like stories about a group of people going into the woods and finding something bad that tries to kill them. It has some descriptive gore, so beware if squeamish.

I still can’t decide if I actually liked it or not, but I guess it did get a reaction from me, and I’m still thinking about it a week or so after finishing it, which is something.

Ratings (out of 5 stars):

  • Overall: ★★★
  • Characters: ★★
  • Setting: ★★★★
  • Plot: ★★
  • Pace: ★★★★
  • Tone: ★★★

*I listened to the audio edition of this book, so if I spelled the names wrong it’s because I only heard them and didn’t see their spelling.