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Reading Time: 4 minutes -

‘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. I thought that less humans, after the warming, would mean less danger. My kind believed our world was finally recovering.
We were wrong.
Up here, the magic is fading and Old Ones like me are being 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.
As the selkie begins her hunt, far to the south on his enormous pleasure ship, Barge, Lord Sal hunts for missing Old Ones with a grand plan to leave his own mark on the world. Icidro and Prince Ulises are searching for them too, and this is a world where money talks louder than morals.

Originally written for Self-Published Fantasy Month.

Before I begin this review, I need to confess that I had no idea what a selkie was. I’d come across the term, but it hadn’t really clicked with me. Based on the blurb of The Skin, I figured it was some seafaring mythological creature like a siren or something. I went into this book blind, not really knowing what a selkie was, and just assuming that the author had a fascination with seals. So to you, J.E. Hannaford, thank you for opening my eyes to the intriguing world of seals!

I’ll assume that readers picking up The Skin either know of the mythology around selkies or have the sense to at least google it (as I eventually did!) In folklore, these are seals who can shed off their skin (hence the title) and walk the land as humans. Many were taken by humans and forced into becoming wives for lonely sailors. The myths paint a very subdued image of the selkie, making them sound quite pathetic indeed. And that is a perception that J.E. Hannaford wished to change.

In this book, selkies have a bit more bite. The Skin is a refreshing take on myths and legends set in a refreshingly original world. It’s part seafaring adventure and part post-apocalyptic survival. Set in the future where humans have ruined the planet and the sea has reclaimed most of it, humans are very much the same as they ever were, adapting to life with what little technology they have left and seeking pleasure, riches, and power wherever they can find it.

Nature has borne the brunt of this new world. Many species have become extinct, leading the rich and powerful to capture and trade exotic species in collections, and the most exotic of all are legendary creatures known as the Old Ones – including selkies.

The story, then, starts with a female selkie who is captured and sold to one such collector without her skin. Luckily for her, she is rescued by another selkie who just so happens to own a profitable pleasure ship known as the Barge. Together with his daughter and cousin – all secret selkies – they form a crew with a goal in mind: to free the Old Ones and help heal the earth from humanity’s influence.

Thus begins an adventure across the seas which leads to heists, rescues, plenty of danger, and some truly heart-stopping moments. The crew of the Black Hind are a fantastic and diverse bunch all with their own mysteries and powers, though the owner of Barge, Lord Sal, is the most charismatic of all and my personal favourite!

A lot of love and lore went into this book, and it shows. The descriptions of nautical life are detailed, as were the mention of the Old Ones and other mythology carefully dripped into this world. If you’ll excuse the pun, there’s also an undercurrent of morality regarding climate change and the impact on nature as well as conservation of the natural world that left food for thought, and which I appreciated.

This story is a bit slow going at first as the world unfurls around the three POV characters. Eventually, those characters will converge around the half-way point. I was confused until I realized exactly what was going on and then I marvelled at how clever that twist was!

Final words:

As a debut author, J.E. Hannaford has spun a delightful tale that captures the magic and wonder of monstrous fairy tales with the gritty reality of humanity’s uncertain place in the world. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in this world with the Black Hind’s crew, and learning more about selkies. I look forward to setting sail with them again in The Pact!

Find The Skin on Amazon and Goodreads

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