Today I’m delighted to be reviewing ‘The Skin’ by J. E. Hannaford as part of the blog tour organised by Storytellers on Tour. This is the first book in the Black Hind’s Wake series, and what a way to start a series! I absolutely loved this book, and there is a chance to win a copy of this one for yourself at the end of the post.
I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
You cannot fix this world alone, Selkie.’
‘I know. But, when we die, all that is left are shadows of our lives preserved in the memories of those who remain. I plan on leaving an exceptionally long shadow, filled with ripples of moonlight for those I helped, and darker than the worst of nightmares for those who wronged us.’
How far would you go to save your skin?
I’m a selkie, trapped above the waves until I can recover my skin. Humans used to call us seal-wives many years ago – before they broke the planet. Up here, the magic is fading and Old Ones like me are traded as trophies for rich and powerful humans to display in collections.
Without the Old Ones, the magic fades, without magic, the planet dies.
Humankind has gone too far and someone has to put a stop to it. I just wasn’t expecting it to be me.
The Skin is a book that has been recommended to me almost weekly for the last few months (looking at you Lee), so it had been one of my most anticipated reads for this last part of the year, and that was before I saw the cover and read the blurb. Firstly, the cover is absolutely stunning – and once you’ve read the book you will realise just how perfectly it represents the story. Then there is the premise. Selkies are one of my favourite mythological creatures, although many of the stories about them follow a similar, rather unpleasant path, but The Skin right from the outset promised to be so much, and it didn’t disappoint.
‘You cannot fix this world alone, Selkie.’
I’ve mentioned that the cover is stunning, but the design inside is just as beautiful. First of all, there is also a map at the beginning, which is an immediate bonus (also there are dragons on the map!), but then there are charming illustrations at the top of each chapter and little waves as page breaks. Lovely little details that add to the experience of reading this book.
The worldbuilding in The Skin is spectacular, a magical blend of folklore, nautical life and the possibility of what a world beyond devastating climate change could look like. This is a world where humanity’s impact on the environment is evident in every aspect of life, from barren lands to relic technology and human settlements and populations and crowded onto land that hadn’t been reclaimed by the sea. It’s a setting that is starkly relevant given what is happening with the climate in the present, and yet Hannaford has transformed it into a powerful setting all of her own, one that highlights the power of nature and magic, and its importance. What is also interesting to see (and somewhat disturbing) is to see how little humanity has changed, they may have adapted to this new world, but they still compete against one another and still threaten nature and the world around them.
Born after the warming, we knew little of the days before. The grinding, whirring noises of mankind’s ships had faded into history, and the crumpled, twisted towers protruding from the seabed around the coast had long since ceased working.
Then there are the various folklore elements that are woven throughout the story. Selkies are just the tip of the iceberg, although they are the main ones that we follow– and I adore this iteration of one of my favourite mythical creatures. Yes, the main vulnerability of the skin remains, but the Selkie in The Skin is so much more – there is power in that vulnerability, and their magic is fascinating, as are the various traditions – from the dance to celebrate Selkie’s sister’s future marriage, to helping a young pup remove their skin and take their first steps on land. Yet, for all that it is fantastical, it feels so incredibly natural in comparison to what we see about humans and their activities. Beyond the selkies, there are other Old Ones – mystical creatures and elements of the natural world given physical form, and each of them is wonderfully unique. Sirens, were another stand out one for me because Hannaford has taken elements of traditional folklore and made it into something new, with regional differences, magic and some truly beautiful imagery. Then there were the humans that shared part of that power, who had some control over nature or animals, which felt almost like a glimmer of hope – a sign that it is possible for humans and Old Ones, humanity and nature to coexist in a meaningful way.
The world is fantastic and beautifully realised, but The Skin is very much a character-driven story. This is a story of love and friendship and family, both blood and found, and also of finding yourself and your own purpose in life, and the characters are wonderfully compelling. There were some truly despicable people in this brutal world, those who want nothing more than power, or to own something that should never be owned – but they are as well crafted as the protagonists, and you are invested in their stories – even if it just to see them brought crashing down.
It was impossible not to become attached to the main characters, and I would be hard-pressed to choose a favourite. Selkie, regardless of what role they were in was absolutely fantastic, and you couldn’t help but feel for her as she was torn between the choices she was constantly faced with – the search for the skin, and her quest to save the Old Ones – as well as protecting those precious to her, and carrying the burden of so many secrets. Zora was another favourite, and her magic was some of the most inventive and I found myself always anticipating what she might do next. Eden and Cor stole my heart though, and it will be a while before I am over that. Sal was nothing like I’d expected at the beginning, but I loved him, and there was just so much more beneath the surface with him that even now it feels like we’ve just scraped the surface with him, but he is magnificently magnetic as a character and you can’t help but be drawn to him. Prince Anard was another character that surprised me in a good way, and again he offers that glimmer of hope that a balance can be found between humanity and the Old Ones and nature, and one of my favourite relationships (and there are so many to enjoy) was the one he had with Sirena. I loved how it turned all the traditional expectations of Sirens and humans interacting on its head while remaining completely and utterly compelling.
‘Prince Anard, are you certain you wish to risk this for a woman you are not even bonded to?’
‘I would risk my soul.’ His head was in his hands as he stared at the grain of the painted table.
Between the characters and the worldbuilding, it was impossible not to become heavily invested in the story of The Skin, and the writing finishes the job of pulling you in. Hannaford manages to capture the charm and magic of folktales, while pairing it with the suspense and jeopardy of a fractured world, with stakes that ranged from the personal to the balance of the natural world. There were twists and turns, and moments that had my heart in my throat, and one, in particular, that had my stomach plummeting – and the emotion and love that was poured into this book are clear to see. This was paired with some truly spectacular descriptions, and everything in The Skin was so easy to visualise.
The Skin is a simply stunning read inside and out. I went into this one with high hopes, and I loved every moment of it – even the ones that broke my heart – and I stayed up far too late to finish this one because I simply couldn’t put it down. This is the perfect read for anyone who loves nautical fantasy and folklore, especially a fresh take on maritime fantasy, and there is so much to love about this book that I can’t put into words, so all I can say is grab a copy for yourself!
Writer of words, builder of worlds. J E Hannaford is powered by coffee, dragons and whisky. She teaches Biology in the real world and invents fantasy beasts to populate her own.
‘I have always loved books. I was the kind of child who thought they were reading sneakily, while my parents tiptoed past the cracks of light from under my bedroom door. Nights passed in a blur of words as I vanished willingly into their pages, lost for days, only coming up for air to deal with the real world when it called.
My imagination has always been sparked by my cultural mythology. From the creatures of The Mabinogion to modern folk stories, I devoured them all. I have a natural affinity for dragons too, after all, every sunset is merely the Welsh Dragon calling me home.
I fell in love with biology too. Marine biology to be specific. The weird and wonderful animals on this world and the legacy and hints of its previous occupants are endlessly fascinating.
All these things – these dreams and fascinations – were bound to merge one day, finding their blending in the Black Hind’s Wake series. I invite you to submerge yourself in a world filled with characters I’d both want to meet, and be afraid to, with deep, dark places, hidden secrets and wondrous creatures. May my worlds and characters find a home in your heart, the way so many others live in mine.’
Prize: The Skin by J. E. Hannaford – UK/EU Only
Grand Prize: Paperback + Bookish Swag
Runners-up: Paperback + Bookmark
Starts: October 17th, 2021 at 12:00am EST
Ends: October 23rd, 2021 at 11:59pm EST
You can enter HERE
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.