A Fresh Shapeshifter Story: Skulk by Rosie Best
Skulk’s anything but a typical paranormal teen fiction. Shapeshifters in Rosie Best’s novel consist of foxes, ravens, rats, butterflies and spiders—no wolves need apply to this world. And, Skulk is urban fantasy in the truest sense of the term, with a rich city-focused setting of London, complete with graffiti and urban wildlife that’s not what it appears.
At the center of this story is sixteen year old Meg Banks, a teen girl who appears to have it all. Her mother’s a highly-respected member of Parliament and her father’s a genius with money. Meg attends an exclusive school that churns out students headed for only the best universities and the brightest futures.
Meg’s perfect parents, perfect school, perfect life is nothing more than a tarnished cage locking in an unconquerable spirit who struggles to find self expression, individuality and ultimately freedom from her cruel and demanding mother and her aloof father.
The wardrobe was a big old oak thing in my mother’s study, and she’d been locking me in it as a punishment as long as I could remember. When I was three, it was terrifying. A huge dark cavern full of witches and monsters and crawly things...
Crawly things are creepy enough but sleazy young guys invited to an evening soiree expressly to hook up with Meg so she could begin mingling with the "right kind of people" is even creepier. These guys make a dark cavern look good.
Before the party, Meg’s mother bursts into her room with a pink dress, one customized via her instruction for the big night with the college boys. Meg thought of it as a bunched-up sausage role and her as the meat stuffed into it. The expectation for Meg to roll herself into the pink skin of a size sixteen dress and look like a size two highlights her mother’s abusive childrearing techniques.
In Meg’s eyes, her mother would be at home with predatory hawks.
She had the bunched-up sausage dress clenched in one hand, like a hawk with a limp corpse in its talons. her face was scarlet, which made the tiny face-lift scars around her ears stand out white and proud...
Obligingly, Meg stuffed herself into the ridiculous dress doing her best to please her mother. But when the sophisticated college boy paws at her, squeezes her breast and states her size isn’t an issue with him, she responds by grabbing a vase, shoving him away and throwing stagnant flower water over his crotch -- a well deserved splash of cold water to temper his aggression.
This is our first hint that there’s much more to Meg than playing the role of a dutiful daughter.
By night she becomes herself, a graffiti artist who climbs from her bedroom window with a backpack filled with the tools of her talent—a forest of art flowing from her fingertips as London slept. An evening of graffiti work morphs into a life altering experience. As Meg creates art, she looks down to witness a fox dying in an alley. She sees it shape-shifting into a person and from his dying body the ability to shape-shift passes into Meg.
She’s clever like a fox before she acquires the literal ability to become one. Now her secret life goes well beyond graffiti art. She finds an odd blue stone that the dying fox-man tried to protect. Finding the other shape-shifters who inhabit London, searching for the ultimate power the shape-shifters hold, thwarting an evil, destructive plot and finding new friends who accept her for the smart, sassy girl she is proves that appearances mean little. Actions and inner strength count. Meg becomes stronger, more savvy and a heroine who brings the shapeshifter clans of London together to fight the diabolical evil taking its own shape in the ruling echelons of the city.
I was taken with Meg much like I was another wonderful teen shapeshifter, Bryn from Jennifer Lynn Barnes’ Raised by Wolves series.
The character of Meg, young woman whose strength and individuality are like iron, give the story its power. She will not bend to the tyrannical actions of her family nor to the powerful politicians she must fight against.
I also loved that author Rosie Best challenged preconceived notions, unfair expectations and offered a deep, hard look into the heart of a teenage heroine who finds love and acceptance by staying true to herself. Meg’s parents loved power and social standing more than they did her. Yet, the indomitable Meg forges forward to accomplish great feats while holding out her hands to help others. Her heart holds true to her own values of decency.
She stands tall, this shapeshifter, speaking powerful words of the good fight. For now, the first battle fades into the misty past. Her final words left me thirsting for the sequel:
I came to say: we’re going to win this fight. You need to make sure you know which side you’re on.
Disclosure: Review copy provided by the publisher.