For the past six months, something has been happening to young people in Santa Feliz. Week after week, there’s news of another teen changing shape, transforming from human to wild animal and back again. The federal government has stepped in, running public service announcements calling for affected youth to turn themselves in for “orientation and training.”
Josh Saunders has seen the news reports, but he is still unprepared when it happens to him. One minute he’s arguing with his mother’s boyfriend and the next, he is looming over the man, blood dripping from his claws—he has transformed into a mountain lion. When he switches back to his human body, he knows his life has changed forever. He has become a Wildling.
Trusting only his best friends Des and Marina with his secret, Josh tries to return to regular living. But an encounter with Elzie, another Wildling, brings him unwanted attention from the authorities. And when an accidental betrayal reveals Josh’s secret, his carefully constructed cover is ripped apart, forcing his friends to intervene. They must grudgingly put their trust in others, including other Wildlings—and, most challenging, in each other—if they ever hope to save him.
Tell Me More: As a relatively new visitor to Bordertown, I thought I had a pretty decent idea of Charles de Lint’s writing style. The rusty, gritty worlds he constructs are one of a kind, and yet they feel like neighborhoods we’ve all visited or seen. His characters are tough without falling into stereotypes, and unique enough to peak anyone’s interest. In Under My Skin, de Lint brings his talent to the town of Santa Feliz, California, where Wildlings have begun to take over the population.
There are no complaints to be found when it comes to the prose–de Lint charges full-speed into a whirlwind of language. His descriptions of the town will make readers feel like they’re breathing in that sea air, and the dialogue is snappy and fresh. The plot was certainly fascinating to watch unfold, even as I was able to predict what was going to happen in every chapter. If it were anyone else, I admit that I would have given up on such predictability, but I trusted that de Lint would make it a story worth reading.
I do question the necessity of dual perspectives in the novel, because it felt like a distracting concession to some readers’ preference for knowing everything that happens in the story. I would have been content following Josh or Marina, but having both characters narrate some of the same scenes or overlapping scenes did get a bit tedious. This ties into my other problem with the novel: uneven pacing. Many of the urban fantasies I’ve read have a zip to their story, which keeps me from overanalyzing the piece and allows me to immerse myself in that world. There were moments in Under My Skin that were like watching a snail race–I couldn’t wait to get to the next chapter and see some actual action. Josh and Marina were so real to me that when they got a little too whiny or difficult (as teenagers do), I did find it difficult to be as patient with them as I wanted to be.
Overall, there are about an equal number of pros and cons to the Wildlings series, which I believe will be better balanced in the succeeding books. More time with the universe de Lint has created may serve to clarify why these characters face the problems they do, and give the reader the chance to really fall in love with them.
The Final Say: Under My Skin is an explosive new addition to the YA urban fantasy spectrum, with shapeshifters that are more human than you might think. It is an excellent introduction to the genre and will delight supernatural fans all over the world.
Charles de Lint (born December 22, 1951) is a World Fantasy Award winning author. Along with writers like Terri Windling and John Crowley, de Lint popularized in the 1980s the genres of urban fantasy (most notably through the Bordeland series of books) and mythic fiction which fall somewhere between classical fantasy literature, and mainstream fiction with a magical realist twist.
His most famous novels include: The Newford series of books (Dreams Underfoot, Widdershins, The Blue Girl, The Onion Girl, Moonlight and Vines, Someplace to be Flying etc.), Moonheart, The Mystery of Grace, The Painted Boy and A Circle of Cats (children’s book illustrated by Charles Vess).