Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers

3.80/5 (based on 15 ratings)
Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers
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The Longships Are Coming!

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.

400-page mass market paperback
ISBN–13: 978-1-60125-616-4
ePub ISBN-13: 978-1-60125-617-1

Skinwalkers is also available as a digital edition on the following sites:

Skinwalkers is sanctioned for use in Pathfinder Society Organized Play. Its Chronicle sheet is available as a free download (359 KB zip/PDF).

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Creepiness galore, without being "Horror"


Everything in Skinwalkers felt very rooted in the culture. Felt "real" for Golarion in a low-magic corner of the world, with what happens when someone gets a hold of some real power.

Dark, Tense, Scary, and . . . Fantastic!



Skinwalkers is a tense, exciting novel and now among my favourites in the Pathfinder Tales line. It's extremely rare in books like this that I'm genuinely concerned that the protagonist is going to die and that the darkest possible ending is about to happen, but I certainly was with this novel! I was on the edge of my seat during some of the action scenes, perhaps because the threats the characters face are extremely creepy and somehow more "real" than one usually gets in a fantasy novel. The author does an excellent job with the setting (the Ironbound Archipelago), making it feel like a place with a distinct geography and culture. It's hard to believe that this was written by a first-time author, and if there's more with these characters later in the series, I'll be thrilled.


Skinwalkers is told by the point of view of Jendara, a woman who grew up in the Ironbound Archipelago before leaving for several years after a mysterious massacre. After several years as a pirate, Jendara has returned home with her son. I mention the son because it's relatively rare that the main character in Pathfinder novels has family to speak of, much less children--but it's handled quite well here. The main threat in the book are the legendary, cannibalistic Kalvamen of a distant island in the archipelago. This is a dark and gory novel, and I thought Jendara was going to die at multiple points. The book isn't all action, however, as the setting and characters are handled well. Particularly effective is the theme of Jendara's initial rejection and gradual acceptance of her homeland's spiritual beliefs. And best of all, the writer sticks the landing: the ending is strong. Coming into the book, I didn't have any particular interest in the "viking" cultures of the Ironbound Archipelago, but I have to say that this book was a delightful surprise.


I'm struggling a bit w/ how I felt about this. Having read more than 1/2 of the PF Tales novels at this point, I find I do have a preference for party-based tales. Or even tales w/ 2 main protagonists. Here, Jendara is really the only character I would call a protagonist. Everyone else is a side character. So that's a personal preference thing.

I liked the setting, was not put off by the grim but realistic violence, and after a period of adjustment, didn't really mind the low-magic fantasy of it all. Jendara was a decent protagonist, but I think I wanted other characters more sharply drawn and fleshed out. I will read Starspawn next (or soon) as I just realized it's a sequel, and see if some of the problems I had w/ this book have been ironed out.

Too many editorial issues (mainly missing words and articles) for my comfort level. Also, some of the language was jarringly modern, and thus felt anachronistic. I saw the plot twist midway through the book coming a long ways away, and didn't necessarily "buy it". Their initial interaction didn't help.

Not a bad 1st novel, though. I look forward to Starspawn and its Mythos elements.

EDIT: for everyone writing a review, make sure you copy it first, b/c half the time this stupid website loses your review when you try to post it, and you have to try again. Argh. "You backtracked too far." Really?!


Most exciting book so far


Out of the 4 books I've read so far, this is the most exciting. Skinwalkers is the only book I almost couldn't put down and finished. If you enjoyed the movie 13th Warrior you should enjoy this book, it has many of the same themes. And while that may make it not entirely original, the author does a great job. When I read the acknowledgements and realized this is her first novel I was even more impressed.

The characters are believable and fleshed out. Moreover all the main characters are female, which is nice to see women being portrayed as normal, 3 dimensional people rather than afterthoughts. If you want fiction for a daughter that is not typical romance or girl waiting for the boy to rescue her, then look into this.

The main character is well fleshed out, with an interesting rage problem that is not belittling to her like some angry stereotypes are, but rather seems to be an exploration of what it's like to be a barbarian (the class in Pathfinder, that is).

I am not sure what people's complaints about violence are all about. There is a lot of action in this book, that is true, but the descriptions are not gruesome or gory. Maybe people are disturbed by her anger, or that the author writes about the feelings of the characters as they fight and those feelings are disturbing. I was disturbed reading Nightgalss, but not this book.

Highly recommended. If you love the Norse mythologies, lycanthropes, you should love this.

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Paizo Employee Chief Technical Officer

Announced! Cover image is a mockup, and will change prior to publication.

Is it February yet?

The Exchange

the name of the book gives me chills! the good kind!

5 people marked this as a favorite.

He's got chills,
they're multiplying
and he's losing control
Cause the title you're supplying
It's electrifying

It's the book that he wants
the book that he wants

Silver Crusade

1 person marked this as a favorite.

YES! All my begging has born a novel!

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber

Is this about the new race coming out in "Blood Of The Moon"? Because it's an instant buy if it is.

Winter_Born wrote:
YES! All my begging has born a novel!

A novel set in the Wintery North has been Winter_Born of Mother Bears.

I am certainly looking forward to this one.

Dark Archive

Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Sounds interesting.

Senior Editor/Fiction Editor

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Nate Z wrote:
Is this about the new race coming out in "Blood Of The Moon"? Because it's an instant buy if it is.

Yup! :D

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Rulebook Subscriber
James Sutter wrote:
Nate Z wrote:
Is this about the new race coming out in "Blood Of The Moon"? Because it's an instant buy if it is.
Yup! :D

Yay! *pre-ordered*

Oh, I might have to get this book. I like the idea of using the pathfinder tales line to fill in background information on Pathfinder's newer and more exotic races. :D

Webstore Gninja Minion

Product image updated.

Silver Crusade

This looks interesting! I like that it's dealing with that part of the world as well.

Does anyone know who painted the cover art? It's awesome!

Also, I just discovered this forum discussion today, and my mind is blown. Fingers are crossed that you all enjoy the book!

Paizo Employee Developer

Welcome to the messageboards, Wendy! Looking forward to reading this!

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.

A proper hero with a real, living family.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

I also, am looking forward to reading this one. I remember how Mother Bears tugged at my parental heartstrings. I was excited to hear that Wendy Wagner was going to be writing a book with her characters, soon it shall be a reality in my iPad!


Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber

Looking forward to reading it!

Senior Editor/Fiction Editor

1 person marked this as a favorite.

I already told Wendy, but so everyone knows: the cover is by Michal Ivan, and is my favorite PF Tales art to date!

I second the "favorite Pathfinder Tales art to date" bit. Michal Ivan has done some stellar cover art for several books but this one is my favorite so far.


Looks and sounds wicked... Congrats to Wendy, and Kudos to James!

Pushed to March. Aww. :(

Silver Crusade

THIS is the one I asked Sutter for and the one I cannot wait for!

1 person marked this as a favorite.

The cover art is great, and I like that the heroine poised to strike is wearing clothes.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

The negative review reminded me to pick this one up, as I loved the Mother Bears web fiction. I'm about a third of the way through, and enjoying it. It's certainly gritty and violent, but considering the villains appear to be

shape-shifting cannibals

it's to be expected.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

I'm pretty much halfway through now, and I completely understand why the reviewer decided to put the book down. Violence/gore doesn't tend to bother me - heck, I was watching the Hannibal TV show when I bought this, figuring: "How bad could it be?" - but there have certainly been a few passages which seemed unnecessarily graphic.

Considering how different this is in tone from all the other fiction produced by Pathfinder Tales to date, I believe this book might merit a warning in its product description.

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

FYI, James Sutter and the author of this book are the featured "guest geeks" on the most recent Geek's Guide to the Galaxy podcast

Managing Editor

Wow, I'm really surprised to see people balking at the violence. When Wendy and I were first talking about this book, the closest analogues we could come up with were Beowulf/Eaters of the Dead, and I was actually afraid that the book *wouldn't* seem gritty enough to get across the same Viking flavor. I was afraid of making the Jendara story too soft and fairy-tale-ish. Perhaps we leaned too far the opposite direction.

Thanks for the feedback! I'm curious if others agree or disagree...?

Silver Crusade

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

What's wrong with you people? You're American! Violence = good, nipples = bad! Being aghast at gore is something for those pansy Euro wussies, not for true descendants of Founding Fathers! :P

You had me at comparing this book to Eaters of the Dead (and by extension, reminding me that I haven't watched The 13th Warrior in too long).

I'm a big fan of Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman, so sex and gore don't bother me all that much in books (I'm not totally desensitized, mind you, but desensitized enough).

Anyway, these reviews actually increased my interest in picking this one up.

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

James Sutter wrote:

Wow, I'm really surprised to see people balking at the violence. When Wendy and I were first talking about this book, the closest analogues we could come up with were Beowulf/Eaters of the Dead, and I was actually afraid that the book *wouldn't* seem gritty enough to get across the same Viking flavor. I was afraid of making the Jendara story too soft and fairy-tale-ish. Perhaps we leaned too far the opposite direction.

Thanks for the feedback! I'm curious if others agree or disagree...?

It's all a matter of opinion of course. I'm also curious as to what other people think of it. I can understand that this one was aiming to be gritty, and when you're dealing with cannibals there's only a few ways to play it. When I get the chance I'll re-read and indicate what I thought unnecessary.

Gorbacz wrote:
What's wrong with you people? You're American! Violence = good, nipples = bad! Being aghast at gore is something for those pansy Euro wussies, not for true descendants of Founding Fathers! :P

Last I checked I was happily un-American. Must be my delicate colonial sensibilities.

Tirisfal wrote:
Anyway, these reviews actually increased my interest in picking this one up.

Excellent! :D

Managing Editor

4 people marked this as a favorite.

In case I seemed too brusque before (I was honestly caught of guard!), I'd like to reiterate that we *are* very careful in how we deal with sensitive issues, specifically violence against children, rape, etc. For instance, you're never going to see a rape scene in a Pathfinder Tales novel. Just not going to happen.

That said, I *do* think it's important to remember that while some of the Pathfinder books may be appropriate for children, our world has never been branded as child-safe. Whether you think a given issue is too mature for a given child is totally up to you. I *can* say that I don't think anything we print is anywhere near as potentially objectionable as best-sellers like Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, etc. (We don't even use the F-word, which is more than can be said of PG-13 movies.)

Darkness has a place in Pathfinder. For this book in particular, it was important to me that we not soft-sell the Kalvamen, the cannibal raiders that even badass vikings are afraid of. So yes, there is cannibalism. There is death (though I didn't feel like it was the grisliest warfare we've seen in Pathfinder Tales so far). There is even a three-word reference to rape, one that neither the author nor I took lightly, and which we thought several times about cutting. But in the end, we gambled and opted to leave it in, because as much as rape is a terribly overused and often harmful crutch in fiction, and should generally be left out of a story unless you're prepared to treat the issue with the gravitas it warrants, it felt disingenuous to us to gloss over that aspect of the raiders completely.

Did we choose poorly? Perhaps we did, and I apologize to those who were disappointed or triggered by the book. But I'd also like to hear the opinions of as many folks as possible, to help us better calibrate to what all of you want to read. Because this is as much about your opinions as it is about ours.

So what do you think?

RPG Superstar 2013 Top 32

Story discussion, includes MAJOR SPOILERS:

Basically, the point of contention will be when Jendara is captured by the Kalvamen. That section felt a little excessive to me, and a little overly cruel towards Jendara. I mean, she fights the squid which seriously injures one of her arms (a battle which does little to advance the plot, unfortunately). Then she gets captured and knocked out for an afternoon, without a chance to defend herself. Then she's tied up and has her arms dislocated, witnesses some ritual sacrifice and cannibalism, and then it just gets darker from there.

Too much bad stuff happening to a character - especially if they're helpless to do anything about it - makes it difficult to empathise with the character. You don't want to feel for them because doing so offers little reward since all they're doing is suffering. It's good that she's planning her escape all through this section, but her powerlessness makes any violence that happens worse because then it's abuse/torture rather than a fight.

To be honest though, the majority of the ick is this bit in Kalira's retelling of what happened to her and their family:

page 189,190 wrote:

Her eyes focused on Jendara’s face for a second. “Have you ever watched a woman scream as her lips are being chewed off? The sound . . .”

She paused and took a deep drink of the wine. Jendara wondered if she dared speak, but Kalira continued. “After they had eaten their fill, including Father’s liver, spleen, and male member —I won’t tell you the things they did to him, while he was still alive—they took the youngest of us and put us in their ships. We were both larder and playthings for the Kalvamen, and the three days and nights we rowed to their island were filled with screams.” She touched her collarbone thoughtfully. “I prayed to the spirits that I would die. I prayed you would appear with your ship and save me. I prayed to every god and every ancestor every single second of that voyage, even as blood leaked from my ears and my nose and between my legs. I prayed and prayed.”

Especially since it never states how old Kalira is, except that she's younger than Jendara. Depending on how old you imagine her to be, that makes what she's retelling all the more horrific.

I understand that it needs to be gritty. I just think that bits like this could've been written in a slightly more subtle way.

I've read perhaps half the novels in the Pathfinder Tales line, and mentally labeled them with the PG-13 rating that the majority of Paizo's stuff hangs around. Sure, there's the occasional item that strays towards the R-rated line, but this definitely seems to be the most boundary-pushing book that's been released. I understand that this content wouldn't be out-of-place in a George R.R. Martin novel, but there it's to be expected. Here it seems a little jarring and out-of-place.

I'm saddened that this one bit overshadows the rest of the book in my mind, as it's an enjoyable debut novel from a promising author. I certainly hope this isn't the last adventure of Jendara and Kran.

Disclaimer: I have not read ubiquitous's above post yet as I have not yet read Skinwalkers. However, I have read all of the other Pathfinder Tales novels, except The Dagger of Trust (I am currently rereading all of Dave Gross' Pathfinder stories so all other books have been on hold).

There is definitely darkness and mature content in the other novels. WARNING: SPOILERS FOR EVERY BOOK MENTIONED!

The Worldwound Gambit:
I have compared The Worldwound Gambit to the Alien films because there is a significant amount of H.R. Giger-esque biological grossness of demons in it. There is also a significant amount of death and dismemberment in the book. The novel also deals with substance abuse issues. One of the characters has sex with another character, it is observed by a third character.

Blood of the City:
At one point in the book, a character gets dropped feet first into what amounts to a wood-chipper. They get almost waist deep in it before they manage to stop it.

This book contains scenes of torture (they worship Zon-Kuthon!), weird oracle-ish folks who have had their limbs removed and have REALLY long tongues. Ick! Disturbing!

Liar's Blade:
Zaquen cuts the eyes out of people that she kills and "feeds" them to her familar. Also, she kills folks with the Black Tentacles spell, a rather nasty way to die. Also, Hrym expresses pleasure at the sensation of being plunged through the guts of a humanoid. It is likened to sex.

I'm not turned off by a little bit of mature content in a book. That said, to date I would rate all of the Pathfinder Tales (except The Worldwound Gambit, which I rated as R for violence and disturbing imagery) as being PG rated under the US's MPAA rating guide. It sounds like Skinwalkers might get another "R" rating. I started Queen of Thorns last night. I think I will put it down to read Skinwalkers so that I can chime in on this debate more relevantly.

I will certainly let you know what I think after I'm done reading it. I may chime in here with spoilered posts as I read to let you know what I am thinking as I read it.

Dark Archive

Just finished Skinwalkers last night. How do I post my review in the review tab?

1 person marked this as a favorite.

Just above the top review there's a link named "Write a review".

Dark Archive

Heine Stick wrote:
Just above the top review there's a link named "Write a review".

Ugh. I hate my aging eyes. Thanx, Heine!

Silver Crusade

Will be buying this as soon as I can get back up to Barnes and Noble. I went there a week ago and they said it wouldn't be in for awhile still. Paizo doesn't want to take AMEX or I would buy it here. So, will just wait.

I am halfway through the book. I'm going to spoiler the rest of my post to avoid... spoiling people who haven't read it, I guess.

includes spoilers of other books!:
So far I am really enjoying the book. Is there quite a bit of gore? Yes. Is it just a touch disturbing? Yes. Is it over-the-top? I don't think so. The horror, gore and level of disturbing in this book is no worse than the vampire-thing in Prince of Wolves or the Demons ripping cultists apart in The Worldwound Gambit.

The reference to rape in the book is, I think, appropriate, given what the Kalvamen are and what Vikings did historically.

I have noticed more errors in the text that would likely have been caught in another editing pass than I normally see in PF Tales novels. For example, the word "revenge" was used when it should have been "avenge." Occasionally an article is left out that would make things more clear. Usually my brain figures it out and fills it in. If I wasn't reading the book mainly while walking to work or feeding the baby at 2AM, I would mark down the errors for correction in the digital version (and future printed versions).

Anyway, there's my thoughts so far. The book is certainly "R" rated, but no worse than some of the other PF Tales novel. When I finish the book, I'll get a review up. Right now, I'm thinking that it's a 4 star novel.

Dark Archive Contributor

Note that "revenge" and "avenge" are still synonymous verbs even if people seldom use "revenge" as a verb these days. It's not wrong to say, as Hamlet Sr. might, "Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder!"

I stand corrected, by a real editor no less! I also learned something new today.

Regarding Skinwalkers: in my head, all the inhabitants of the Ironbound Archipelago (except Jendara and the crew of Milady) speak with my Grandfather's Swedish lilt. I don't know if they were supposed to be written that way, but that's the voice they have for me.

Is Jendara's sister a Moon Oracle? Or is she a witch? She feels a little like both. No curse, though. I'm thinking that she's a witch and the bird is her familiar.

My continued thoughts. Spoilers within!

Through Chapter 20:
When I read Jendara's initial interactions with Gerda, my initial reaction was, "Ugh. Not another character who has been burned by religion and has no use for the gods (or in this case, the faith she was raised with)." Then I got to chapter 20 where Jendara rediscovers her faith and it was like a breath of fresh air! As a person who intentionally abandoned and later rediscovered the faith tradition I was raised in, it was nice to meet a character who is like me!

Kalira on the other hand, prayed and prayed to anything that might hear her and was eventually answered by something else. Something EEeevil! I have decided that she must be a witch.

The love interest between Jendara and Vorrin is, a little cheesy, but I don't think it negatively effects the story.

The Isle of Ancestors strikes me as having a doorway to the first world, or maybe the barrier is just thinner there.

I was pretty interested in this book since I have been wanting to play a skinwalker character. I thought it would be an interesting way to get a peek at what such a character might be like. I have to say that the things I'm reading about what the skinwalkers are doing in the book makes it likely that this isn't a good book to get character ideas from :(

Plus, I read book 1 of the Game of Thrones and decided it was too graphic for my tastes. If people are comparing it to that then I think that settles things for me, lol.

Managing Editor

Matrix Dragon wrote:

I was pretty interested in this book since I have been wanting to play a skinwalker character. I thought it would be an interesting way to get a peek at what such a character might be like. I have to say that the things I'm reading about what the skinwalkers are doing in the book makes it likely that this isn't a good book to get character ideas from :(

Yeah, the skinwalkers in this book are definitely *not* the iconic skinwalkers. Skinwalkers aren't inherently bad folks, it's just that the raiders in this one also happen to be skinwalkers.

1 person marked this as a favorite.


Review was originally posted on my blog, The Grassy Gnoll. Version here is snipped for length, you can read the full review here if you wish: Review - Pathfinder Tales: Skinwalkers.

Hope it helps some people decide. Oh, and Matrix Dragon? I wouldn't say it's Game of Thrones level, but that's just my personal view.

I've just posted my interview with Wendy N. Wagner over on The Grassy Gnoll, which includes some discussion of the process of writing Skinwalkers, and writing for Pathfinder Tales in general.

Interview with Wendy N. Wagner, Author of Skinwalkers | The Grassy Gnoll

EDIT: And if anyone was curious, apparently James Sutter is an awesome editor. Woo! Go Sutter!

Sovereign Court

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens Subscriber

I have just finished reading this novel and wanted to add my comments to James Sutter's request above for gauging opinions and calibration.

I have to say I think this is one of the better novels in the Pathfinder Tales line and I have read most of them now. The title refers to a group of barbaric people in a barbaric end of Golarion, so my view is that the level of violence is about right for a Paizo product. Taking on board the comments above, and fully understanding the level is not for everyone, I have to say that within this bestial context the lack of violence, brutality and even rape would be unbelievable for me. The fact the author / editor have incorporated the latter in a subtle fashion that might well be missed by younger readers, yet is clear to most adults, is thoughtful, clever and laudable.

I will add one more positive I have surprisingly not seen in the comments so far, and that is I found this book the most horror-filled of the line so far (and that includes Nightglass amazingly). The initial period when the general enemy is unclear and unknown was chilling.

And the crows...I like crows, but the imagery associated with them was darkly done and goosebump-inducing. The simple lifting off of the murder of crows from the ship early on was dark and got me. Just me?

Protecting people and children from unsuitable material is vital, so perhaps the suggestion elsewhere of a guide to violence and other adult themes might be an aid to parents on the books, while allowing some themes to be treated without being neutered?

Well done Wendy - I'd say you should be very proud of your first novel and, like many others, I hope we can see more of Jendara in the future please.


Sovereign Court

What I found really weird was that this novel is heavy on gore but the writing style is teen fiction (lots of explicit repetition of key plot points. Dialogue used to spell out exactly how people feel).

I actually felt quite patronised by this novel: Wendy has written great scenes with evocative writing but follows it up all too often with a clumsy hammer of just making sure you know what's going on, you thicko.

The scene where Jendara disembarks at the Isle of the Ancestors is a perfect example and, re-reading, the most disappointing thing is that if I crossed it all out you'd have a slimmer (why is this book 100 pages longer than Prince of Wolves?) superior novel.

So many great turns of phrase in this novel and a decent plot too but all undermined by the idiot hammers, especially the dialogue.

I am about half way through the book I am just past the point of

the reveal about her sister

I am liking it so far. I liked the tension and horror built up to the revealed. It reminds a little of the old horror movies.

Is it But than again I noticed it is her first novel. So taking that into account I really want to see her write more.

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