Review: Skin by Christian Baines

SkinRating: 5 stars
Buy Link:
Amazon | iBooks | Amazon UK
Length: Novel


Queer and fabulous, Antoine would change for no one. He was proud of who he was and how he looked. Anyone who couldn’t handle him was welcome to walk the fuck away. That glorious, casual confidence drew Kyle to Antoine and the two struck up an unlikely friendship in a smoky club playing music neither one liked. A sweet romance bloomed between them, each day a chance for Antoine to draw Kyle a little more out of his shell. Their relationship got cut short, however, when an unsavory character set his sights on Antoine. What could have ended at sexual assault instead ended in murder when Antoine tried to take a stand against his attacker.

Kyle is left adrift, bereft. He falls into despair, anger, and denial at how Antoine’s very essence gets brushed under the rug by his own family. Hurting and struggling to remember his place, Kyle looks for work in one of the ubiquitous bar/strip clubs in the French Quarter.

Marc is another lost soul just trying to make ends meet after arriving in the Crescent City. He needs a job and a place to live. Conveniently, he lands a job shaking his can on bar tops. Even better, one of his new coworkers—Ash—is looking to let a room. Marc is both attracted to and repelled by Ash. The man runs hot and cold, mercurial to the core. For all he can be cruel and cold, he always seems to catch himself and try to make amends. It doesn’t take long for Marc to warm up to him and, surprise surprise, Ash takes a shining to Marc.

Together, they work a city that never sleeps—turning tricks and taking pleasure in each other’s company. But strange dreams plague Marc’s sleep. When the bad juju starts to affect his performance at work, Ash takes note, and he’s none too gentle about laying out the facts of life—and making rent. Soon, Marc’s head is a jumble of forgotten memories and increasing confusion.

Things come to a head when Marc catches Kyle committing a serious crime. Suddenly, the key to understanding his attraction to the volatile Ash and his missing memories is just within reach…but will he remember before disaster strikes again?

ZOMG, this is a devastatingly good read. I don’t even know how to review it for fear of giving something away.

The book is divided up into chapters. The first one is told from Antoine’s point of view. Initially, I was a bit on the fence about the character—worried he would come off as campy. Holy schnikies, was I wrong. At the close of the first chapter, Antoine has the aforementioned run in with a bad dude. I didn’t want Antoine to die, so I immediately checked the table of contents and saw all the remaining chapters were split see-saw like between Kyle and Marc—that boded ill for Antoine. Happily, the very next chapter featured Kyle and his meeting with Antoine. It took me a few chapters to realize the story is being told non-linearly, but the extent to which this characterizes the book was not fully revealed until the last couple of chapters—and to explosive effect. Basically, Antoine’s chapter (the first in the book) is actually the middle of the time line while all of Kyle’s and Marc’s chapters are also linear…but not necessarily parallel. That will make more sense when you read it…and you should totally read it.

Kyle and Marc’s threads are wholly intertwined and Antoine and Ash are the links between them. It was nothing short of amazing to be able to flip-flop between these two dissimilar characters in dissimilar situations and yet feel their stories fit together. The prose is lush with the language and imagery of New Orleans, too. Both Marc and Kyle’s threads are electrically described—for all that they are polar opposites, I can’t imagine a better way to vicariously visit a city. Kyle shows us a bit of gay culture and, through his connection to Antoine, New Orleans voodoo culture. Marc starts of fairly innocent, but quickly descends into the pit of subsistence existence with Ash. It’s clear he’s found a place where he feels comfortable, despite the unsavory things he does to get by—his initial discomfort at the prospect of dancing barely-clad to earn a living is palpable—but he adjusts, as we all must.

The first half of the book is pretty straight forward in that it’s just like reading a story about Marc and a story about Kyle—just two guys who live in the same city. It starts to get interesting when their individual threads start to get closer together, courtesy of their individual experiences with Ash and Antoine. The real piece de resistance is the culmination of these two (four?) threads. Once I realized how all the characters were supposed to fit together, I was filled with such hope…and when the final act played out, I had one of those rare Ai no Kusabi moments.

I may have mentioned Ai no Kusabi before, but basically, it’s a gay erotic anime that, strictly speaking, does not have a HEA for the main characters—and yet, I personally feel any other ending would have cheapened their story. So, too, with Skin. This is not a HEA, but any other ending would have felt a bit too goody-goody. Besides, the Henry Bemis-esque ending left me burning to reread the story to catch all the foreshadowing I didn’t even know was foreshadowing.

The only real criticism I have of the book is actually about the end—not the content of it, but they execution. My gut reaction is that there is just a touch too much writing after all the cards have been laid down. A more succinct ending would have upped the impact (the crushing blow!). That and the heavy use of profanity (not generally averse to foul language, but it was kind of ubiquitous).

Overall, just the structure of this book is compelling, but coupled with the vibrant characters and and equally vibrant, gritting setting and it turns into a real page turner. If you are looking for a paranormaly, thrillery story, this is a stunning read.

camille sig

Comments

  1. This story sounds fascinating, Camille. I’ll be adding it to my wishlist.

    • Ugh, my description is so junk, but if you at all like super huge plot twists and are willing to read a story that doesn’t have a classic happily ever after, this is an uh-may-zing book!

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