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Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers

***½( ) (based on 6 ratings)
Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers
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by Wendy N. Wagner

As a young woman, Jendara left the cold northern isles of the Ironbound Archipelago to find her fortune. Now, many years later, she’s forsaken her buccaneer ways and returned home in search of a simpler life, where she can raise her young son Kran in peace. When a strange clan of shapeshifting raiders pillages her home, however, there’s no choice for Jendara but to take up her axes once again to help the islanders defend all that they hold dear.

From author Wendy N. Wagner comes a new adventure of vikings, lycanthropes, and the ties of motherhood, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.

ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-616-4

Note: This product is part of the Pathfinder Tales Subscription.

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Product Reviews (6)
1 to 5 of 6 << first < prev | 1 | 2 | next > last >>

Average product rating:

***½( ) (based on 6 ratings)

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Review from the Grassy Gnoll

****( )

Full review posted at The Grassy Gnoll, excerpts posted here (snipped for length).

I think one of the biggest strengths of this novel is the characters. Credit where credit is due, Ms. Wagner knows how to write some believable characters. Jendara in particular felt very real to me. Her desire to change who she was, the demons of her past (both due to her life as a pirate, and other events in her life); the disgust when she starts to revel in violence again; the protectiveness she feels for her son; her strength in the face of adversity, even when she sometimes feels doubt; and her rejection of the traditional worship of ancestor spirits and clan totem animals… it all comes together to paint a vivid portrait of her in my mind ... Just as an aside, I was quite amused when I opened up my copy of Inner Sea Combat at lunch today and found Jendara listed in the section about notable martial characters of the Inner Sea region. For those that are interested, she’s apparently a level 6 Fighter, which based on her prowess in the novel sounds about right. I really like that they've tied her into the canon that way...

Something I’ve noticed a couple of people complaining about in reviews of this novel is the increased level of violence, and the lower than normal use of magic. Pathfinder Tales have, in general, been fairly high magic and haven’t had particularly graphic descriptions of violence in them, and some people didn’t seem to appreciate this shift in tone, which is fair enough. Different strokes for different folks and all that. That said, I’d argue the idea that it doesn't feel like a Pathfinder story. While magic may be common for Pathfinder gaming groups, with most groups having at least one caster, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be absolutely everywhere in the world ... That’s also not to say that there isn't any magic in the novel. Certainly it starts to pop up more and more after the halfway point of the story, just not in a flashy “fireballs and lightning” kind of way. I think the increased focus on the description of the physical combat and it’s aftermath actually worked very well for this story, since it focuses entirely on characters who are non-magical and have to rely on their wits, skill and strength at arms to get them through. I don’t feel it’s too graphic, especially not compared to some low-magic fantasy I’ve read. There’s the occasional scene where Jendara may go overboard, but it’s usually prompted by fear for the lives of her friends and family; other than that the worst of it is the descriptions of the state some of the bodies that are found are in. I’ll put it this way, it’s definitely no Game of Thrones.

The biggest weakness in the story for me? The twist midway through the plot. Not that it’s not well written, and it works in the context of the story, tying everything back together and making sense of a number of plot elements. The problem was that I saw it coming from very early on, around the time of the quarry scene. Now whether this is because it is an obvious twist, or because I just spend too much of my time on TV Tropes and have started to pick up on these sort of things faster, I couldn’t say. But rather than a moment of “Oh my god” shock, I got a moment of “hah, called it” satisfaction. Not a bad thing, just an observation.

In terms of writing style, I found the book to be clearly written, easy to understand, and engrossing. There are a couple of little oddities here and there, but overall it’s a slick read. Wendy N. Wagner has a good grasp of how to describe combat to keep it interesting, and does well with the interactions between the various characters as well. I read it in an evening, but given that I’ve been known to read up to two books a day on the weekends, don’t let that make you think it’s too short. The story is the perfect length. Long enough to get everything it needs to done, but not so long that it starts to drag.

So, would I recommend Skinwalkers?

Short answer: Yes, absolutely.

Long answer: Yes, so long as you don't have a problem reading a fantasy novel that doesn't contain huge amounts of magic (no healing potions here!), does contain (somewhat) graphic violence. It's not meant to be anything more than an exciting romp through the world of the Pathfinder RPG, and at that, it succeeds admirably.


Loved it!

*****

Fantastic, and a bit grittier than previous tales. I didn't find it overly gross out violent, but I am a fan of Game of Thrones, so maybe I'm just used to it? I love the character of Jendara and the more serious tone of this one. Looking forward to seeing more from this author!


A Good Read

****( )

More serious than many of the Pathfinder tales, but better because of it. Couldn't put it down. I hope we hear from Mrs. Wagner again!


Dark fantasy invades the Isles

***( )( )

Thoroughly enjoyed Wendy N. Wagner's Skinwalkers. Quite different from the rest of the Pathfinder Tales. It felt far more sword & sorcery / horror than the almost comic-book level heroes (and protags) in many of the other books. It showed how characters would honestly react if encountering events like those from the Skinsaw Murders and Hook Mountain Massacre from the Rise of the Runelord adventure path. I liked the protag, her background and the society she lived in. Nice to read about the importance of familial and extended relationships as the character interacts with said members without them being casually mentioned all the time as part of the background or in flashbacks.

My biggest complaint with the book is it didn't feel like, well, a Pathfinder adventure. This is typical for me of many Pathfinder tales. As usual, the protag continues to be solo whereas most game sessions would have a party of adventurers. This is especially sad since Skinwalkers has one of the best setups to create a party. This, though, is a common complaint I have with virtually all Pathfinder Tales. (Exception: the excellent Worldwound Gambit by Robin D. Laws.) Also non-Pathfinder: the lack of magic. C'mon, not even a wand of healing? Those islanders are not that primitive! Skinwalkers could have been set in a myriad number of low-magic settings. Again, this is a common complaint I have with most Pathfinder Tales.

Otherwise, recommend Skinwalkers, especially if you're looking for some horror in your fantasy.


Enjoyable but violent

***( )( )

After the seeing the previous review, wondering how much might be truth and how much might be overreaction, and remembering how thoroughly I enjoyed Wendy N. Wagner's Mother Bears, I bought this book and raced through it. I figured it at least deserved a review of its entirety. I don't mind a bit of violence and gore – how bad could it be?

I got about halfway through and wanted to put it down. There's a handful of scenes – each hot on the blood-drenched heels of the previous – where the violence could definitely be seen as unnecessary (and perhaps gruesome enough to be worthy of an indication in the product description due to its departure in tone from the rest of the Pathfinder Tales line). It clogs up the page count a little too, not helped by the book's slow start. Jendara fights the local superstition almost as much as she does horrible shape-shifting raiders and other beasties. I just wanted people to believe her so the plot could progress.

It's more of a pity that people might put this book down after only half of it, as some of the scenes I most enjoyed were in the book's second half. When the threat is realised and the plot finally kicks into gear is when some of the best writing turns up. One location is an absolute blast to read about, and I hope gets further page-space in future Paizo content (perhaps PFS? One can only hope).

As for our protagonist Jendara; poor, poor Jendara. She almost has as hard a time of it as Lara Croft in the recent Tomb Raider reboot. I don't think she makes it through a single fight unscathed, and there's a lot of fighting in this book. Due to the prevalence of injury, and the lack of ongoing repercussions, I couldn't empathise with any violence done to her near the end of the book as it was expected rather than shocking.

Additionally, the book is sadly light on interactions between Jendara and her son, preferring to focus on her past – both distant and recent – and how it has affected her and everyone around her. It's not a bad focus, but I would've enjoyed more interaction between Jendara and her son Kran. Theirs is a unique relationship - especially in fantasy fiction such as this - and that would've been fun to explore further.

There's also a few minor issues that jumped out at me. Jendara takes off her "sweater" at one point. Another islander refers to "balsa wood" in a comparison. A character is knocked out with a blow to the head and is unconscious for an entire afternoon with not much in the way of ill effects.

On the positive side, I found this book very easy to read. The characters are identifiable and realistic in their behaviour. The description and setting is wonderful. It's not badly written by any means, just brought down by the overly-descriptive violence, squandered potential, and small fiddly problems. Not a bad first novel by any means.

Although it didn't live up to my expectations, I would still love another book with Jendara. I'm just more interested in the future adventures of her and her son than dwelling on her past.


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