K. A. Krake, Skin
Guessing Tales, Book 4
reviewed by Alison McBain
Publisher: Krakenfire Media
Date: June 1, 2017
Length: 237 pages
I enjoy reading science fantasy, the genre mashup of science fiction and fantasy. A lot of the genre fiction of the 1950s and 60s can be classed in this category, such as the works of Robert Heinlein and Poul Anderson.
After this initial golden age of genre fiction, I feel that there was a period of time where the lines between the genres were more sharply defined. Fantasy was fantasy, and there was generally no science in it. However, there has been a conscious return to this genre smorgasbord, especially with the rise of the urban fantasy genre, steampunk, magical realism and weird fiction.
I particularly like the world-building inherent in this type of fiction, especially when the details are done well. This mashup category relies on the specificity of science, in addition to the wonder of magic.
Many of these conditions are present in K. A. Krake’s novel Skin, which is the fourth installment of Ms. Krake’s Guessing Tales series. I haven’t read her earlier books, and I feel that this one reads like a stand-alone novel. The world is introduced with a bang, and the details about it are easy to absorb.
The main character is Rev, a Natural. He’s a bodybuilder who works at a gym and is a purist when it comes to his body. He won’t put anything into it that is artificial: no supplements, no pills, no surgeries, and especially no Mech upgrades.
The Mechs are different. While they might come to the gym where he works, they really don’t need to; their bodies are augmented by machine implants. When they bleed, they bleed oil. Although humans once upon a time, they are human no longer. They are cyborgs, and often bullies to boot. Rev gets bullied by a gang of Mechs, and despite countless hours of honing his body, he can do nothing to save himself.
In rides Sveta to his rescue, a woman whose snake-slitted eyes mesmerize him. She is a third class of humans, the Animus, who have surgeries to add animal parts to their bodies for both aesthetic and life-saving measures.
Sveta invites him to work for her. She runs a gym called Sanctuary, which acts as a shelter for her kind. But that’s not the only relationship she offers him, and her beauty tempts him, even though Rev is at first repulsed by the Animus. To him, any sort of artificial modification is wrong. But as he is slowly drawn into Sveta’s world and finds himself falling for her, he can’t help but question the boundaries of what it means to be human.
What first drew me to Ms. Krake’s novel was her interesting and unique world-building. I love the idea of the different layers of humanity, none of which is content with being human. In addition to machine and animal, there are people modified by drugs for temporary physical and mental improvements, and also people who have been corrupted by magic. Everyone seems to be trying to change, but the changes are seldom for the better in the long run. The more their outward appearances change, the more they may become corrupted internally, until their humanity is, essentially, stripped away.
This book raises the age-old question about what it means to be human, and it explores it on several levels. While some of those levels might be a tad heavy-handed at times, some of them are also very interesting.
While I enjoyed the story, I felt that my one criticism of it is that I would have liked to see more: more of the world, more of the society, and more explanation of some of the world’s elements. Some of this I would attribute to my jumping into this world in the fourth book.
But I would have also liked to see a longer storyline for the main character. For someone with a lifelong aversion to physical modification of his body, Rev seems to fall into the idea of being comfortable with modified humans a little too quickly.
But, overall, I enjoyed the premise of the story and found it a fun read. The voice and dialogue are good, and the main character’s journey compelling. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the reoccurring fight scenes in the arena, which is a sort of underground gladiator pit for the Animus.
From personal experience, I know that fight scenes are hard to write well; it’s difficult to keep track of all the different combatants and make the description of such quick-moving action stay at a good pace without getting bogged down in too much detail or confusing the reader with too little. I thought the scenes were especially entertaining, and I looked forward each time to the description of the various creatures and characters who appeared in the arena.
If you’re looking for a straightforward narrative with quick-moving action scenes, then this would be a good summer read for you. I’ll have to go back and check out the first three books of the series to experience more of Ms. Krake’s complex and fascinating world. I hope you enjoy reading it as I did.
Copyright © 2017 by Alison McBain