Three flying saucers
The author of Catskinner’s Book, Misha Burnett, gave me a copy of the audiobook version and asked me to review it. I’ve decided to try something a little bit different with this review, dividing it into the good, the bad, and the ugly. Fortunately, the story pulled me in, and the good outweighed the bad and ugly.
The world created in this story, although looking superficially like modern-day America, is really wide-open. There are supernatural things going on, so any person the characters encounter could be a source of information, a potential ally, or a deadly threat. Similarly, any location the characters visit could be just a place for things to happen, or it could be a life-threatening trap. This made me stay on my toes as I read the story.
The pacing of the story also really kept me engaged. There was a nice balance between action scenes and scenes which increased suspense or provided information. The first few minutes of the audiobook were a bit slow, but once the action started the story really moved along. There were three fight/action scenes in the book which I really enjoyed, but I’m not going to introduce any spoilers here by describing them.
The main character of this story reminded me of the main character from Steelheart: a socially awkward teenager facing end-of-the-world-style problems. However, in Catskinner’s Book there were some aspects of the character’s background that made the situation seem plausible. The dual nature of the character (James plus Catskinner) also meant that there were two possible perspectives to any situation.
There are times (fortunately just a handful) when the writing can be overly descriptive. When the characters enter a new setting, sometimes a large number of objects (not later part of the plot) are described, where I think just one or two objects could have set the mood. One example is when the main character opened a desk drawer; I would have said that he saw “some office supplies and a photograph”, but the story lists a specific number of pens and pencils, a partially used eraser, etc.
There were a couple of things in the book that were clearly there for “shock value”, and which didn’t seem to have anything to do with the plot. The primary incident was the morning after the main character’s first sexual encounter (mercifully not described in detail), when he discovered that his new girlfriend had a penis. As drugs/alcohol were not involved, I don’t know how this could have escaped discovery the night before. I also didn’t find his reaction to this new discovery at all believable: he didn’t scream, have stomach pains, or run away; he just carried on as if nothing had happened and never brought the subject up again.
The ending seemed a bit weak to me, but I’m still trying to analyze why I feel that way about it. Instead of ending with a final confrontation and victory, the story ends when the “good guys” negotiate a cease-fire with the “bad” side. Objectively, I don’t think this in itself makes for a weak ending, but I could be wrong. A second possible source of weakness was the negotiation process. The main character was basically just a passive observer, his hermaphrodite love interest carried out all the negotiations with the leader of the other side. That leader also wasn’t physically present; the remote communications reduced the tension as there was a lower risk that the encounter would turn violent.
This story turned out to be a page-turner for me, even though I don’t consider myself a fan of paranormal/urban fantasy. I would like to recommend it as a young adult book, but the scene with sexual content makes it inappropriate for the younger consumers in that market.