Skin and Bones by Susan Harris (2016)
Skin and Bones is the first book in Susan Harris’ urban fantasy series, The Ever Chace Chronicles. Before you have a chance to read the blurb teasing the story, the first thing appearing in the back cover copy is a pronouncement identifying the book as a “2017 RONE award nominee for best paranormal romance!”. Not going to lie—after I read the description of the story, the suggestion that this book is part of the paranormal romance genre was the gentle push I needed to download the book and give it a try. Do not be fooled like I was—this is not a romance novel. Yes, there is a love plot, but it’s definitely not the A plot. Paranormal suspense is probably a better descriptor of the book’s genre. This is not to say that, once my expectations were adjusted, I didn’t enjoy reading the book. I just didn’t get what I thought I was getting, and while that is sometimes a good thing (like when you get even more than what you were expecting or you get something you didn’t even know you wanted and it was totally awesome), Skin and Bones presented a few other challenges that were difficult for this reader to overcome.
The story is set in Cork, Ireland (I know, how many times do I get to write that sentence?). In this world Harris is building, supernaturals exist and the world knows about them, and as you’d expect, it is not always an easy coexistence between humans and supernaturals. When the story opens, we meet Agent Derek Doyle, leader of the Paranormal Investigations Team, a unit of the police department tasked with investigating crimes involving supernatural victims or suspects. I have to admit that right from the start, I was a little thrown off by being presented with Derek as the narrator (he narrates the first five chapters) because the series is titled “The Ever Chace Chronicles”. Silly me, I thought she’d be the one narrating the story. Instead, we don’t meet her for a while, and when we do, she feels more like a supporting character than the protagonist and main character. But back to Derek for a moment—he’s a werewolf, and the rest of his team is made up of two vampires (Caitlyn and Donnie), a warlock (Ricky), and their human resident tech genius, Melanie. Derek’s boss and captain, Tom, is a werebear. Derek and his team are investigating the murders of teenage supernaturals who were murdered just before they fully matured into adulthood and their supernatural gifts. As I said above, this is not a romance novel. It is, in its own way, a form of the police procedural, and the main plot of the story is to identify the murderer and bring him to justice.
One of the things I wish I would have known about this book before I dived into it is that the narrative is told from multiple points of view. This happens to be my least favorite narrative style. The first narrator of the story is actually the murderer, and this POV returns throughout the narrative. Derek is one of the primary narrators, as is Ever (eventually). We also get chapters narrated from Caitlyn’s POV and Melanie’s POV. For the writers reading this post, you may be inclined to say that Harris engages in “head-hopping” (where the narrative POV shifts from one character to another without warning, violating the expectations for third-person limited narrators). If you don’t mind multiple POV or if it’s your favorite narrative style (I know you readers are out there!) then this won’t be an issue for you but at least now you know and have fair warning.
Another aspect of the book I had problems with is that the series title—The Ever Chace Chronicles—gave me the impression that this story was about her. Or rather, that she is the main character in whose fate I should be most invested. In my mind, Harris didn’t really pull this off. For me, Ever is a character within an ensemble cast of characters—hence the multiple POV. The risk with this approach is that I’m going to care about some characters more than others, and I’m going to want to see the story through their eyes. I’m going to want them to get more time on the page. The result, of course, is frustration when I have to switch to a character I don’t care about as much, or who isn’t as fully developed as others. If you like your books to have an ensemble cast and the ability to see what all the different characters are up to and thinking, then this won’t be an obstacle for you. Again, this is more fair warning to anyone reading the series title to manage your expectations.
One last thing I would have liked to know before starting this book—it ends with an epilogue, and the epilogue concludes with a major cliffhanger. This is the point where you make your choice as to whether or not you will continue the series or decide you’re done and ready to move on to something else.
On the one hand, I didn’t exactly get what I came for from Skin and Bones, but I’m not necessarily disappointed with what I got. On the other hand, I’m not planning to continue reading the series. On a budget? The good news is that at the time of this writing, Skin and Bones is available in the Kindle Unlimited library if you happen to be a subscriber; however, if you’re not a subscriber, the bad news is that I wasn’t able to find this title on the physical or digital shelves of my local library. With the benefit of hindsight, my final analysis is that my sense of disappointment would have been a lot stronger had I paid the cover price for the book, but I also know that the things that bother me as a reader don’t matter to other readers. Hopefully this will give you enough insight into the book to know whether it is one that you will love or feel mostly meh about.
Have you read Skin and Bones? What are your thoughts?