Despite having defeated the cannibalistic Black Annis and besting the defiled Vederer, Silas Mercer’s work as an ankou for the Order of the Golden Dawn is far from over. But first, Silas and Tobias “Pitch” Astaroth, his daemonic guardian, have to make a report to the Lady Satine, the head of the Order. As they travel, Silas notices how Pitch changes. Usually, Pitch’s silver tongue is ready with a clever taunt or salacious joke. Now, he does his level best to needle everything Silas does. Pitch insists he is fine, but when the pair happens across a small farm, Pitch manages to enrage every occupant. It lands him in a fight against the entire family–and Pitch does not fight back. Silas is almost convinced a mere mortal cannot do lasting damage to the daemon, but seeing Pitch goad and insult the angry farmers, he feels he must intervene. Except Pitch quite literally uses his powers to keep Silas away. With this, on top of days of Pitch’s disdainful condescension, Silas mounts his horse Lalassu and continues on his way.
After hours of riding, Silas finds an abandoned homestead where he might rest for the evening. To his surprise, Lalassau takes off, leaving Silas quite alone. Knowing the horse would not leave him anywhere dangerous, Silas makes the best of the little house. Silas also discovers an interloper named Charlie, an aristocratic youth who has run away from home. There is something about Charlie that Silas finds…almost alluring. With the gathering night, the pair decide to share their resources, a meal, some cannabis, and a night of passion. But whatever enjoyment Silas takes in Charlie is colored by the most delicious and discomforting wishes that it were Pitch with him instead.
The next day, Silas is ready to put the whole affair and Charlie himself behind. After all, how can Silas hope to even befriend Charlie, who knows nothing of the dangers of being associated with Silas’ life? Yet before Silas can sever his ties with Charlie, the two are set upon by a fearsome group of beings with onyx eyes and intimate knowledge of exactly who Silas is. With the help of Tyvane, a soothsayer Silas briefly met when he first heard of the Order, Silas and Charlie manage to defeat round after round of the terrifying creatures. Silas also learns what has become of Pitch, but no one is willing to tell Silas how badly hurt the daemon is, let alone let Silas see him. Silas will have to overcome a magical house and stubborn daemon if he is to save his guardian.
The Skriker is the third book in D K Girl’s The Diabolus Chronicles. The first two books follow a simple “find the bad guy, vanquish the bad guy” premise with a lot of world and character development to fill things out. The Skriker has bad guys, but they’re not the main event. I would say Silas and Pitch’s relationship is centered here, an interesting focus given that these two are separated for a good portion of the book. This feels like a play on the concept of absence makes the heart grow fonder, or not knowing what you’ve got until you’ve lost it. Silas certainly has to confront the way Pitch creeps into his thoughts even though the daemon is not present. There are a few chances for us to see how Pitch reacts to news of what’s going on with Silas, too. Taken together, this raises the hopes of these two coming together in a fantastic bang. There is a proverbial (or maybe literal is a better choice) bang when Silas and Pitch reunite, but it’s immediately colored by Silas’ intense self-doubt and/or shame at feeling attraction towards Pitch. And Pitch gets a little taste of what jealousy feels like when he learns of Charlie and Silas’ roll in the hay. Altogether, it’s a pretty good combination of angst and desire and consummation and alienation. As far as I am concerned, the real reunion happens when Silas and Pitch share a quiet moment in a graveyard at the end of the book…but that’s just me.
In lieu of a story that builds up towards a big battle, the creatures Silas and Charlie fight seem to tie into a bigger arc. These reanimated corpses are being controlled by someone remotely, using methods that set up an exciting prospect for the future of the series. It also could be a way to tie the villains from the previous books to this bigger arc. That is, it seems like the story is setting up a bigger-than-you-expected battle between good and evil and the Black Annis and Verderer were foreshadows of that evil Silas will have to face. When Silas and Charlie reach Bess’ sanctuary, there is much discussion about what these new creatures portend. There is also a tidy recap of all the information Pitch shared about his past in the previous book (The Vederer) that gives the reader inklings as to how things might start to tie together. The overall effect might be that there is less action/battle in this story, but the enemies Silas encounters helped bridge the seemingly dissimilar threads of Pitch’s past on the Hellfield and Silas’ present as an ankou.
As much as I enjoyed seeing the still bittersweet developments in Silas and Pitch’s relationship and finally seeing concrete connections forming between the various story arcs, there was one bitter disappointment in The Skriker. I took enormous umbrage with the treatment of Charlie. Charlie introduces himself like this:
‘My name’s Charlie.’ The young man swept the cap from his head. His light hair was cropped short, and apparently done so without the aid of a barber.
Everything up to this point genders Charlie as a man. Silas does. The book does. Everything is hunky dory, though there did seem to be some foreshadowing about maybe Charlie being a trans man (lots of layers, “giggling” at things). However, when Silas and Charlie are about to get intimate, Charlie decides to preemptively explain the plumbing to Silas (emphasis mine):
…Silas, there is something…I’ve not been fair…’ Charlie shifted against Silas, urging him clear. Once he had room, he took a deep breath and rose to his feet. … A weak smile played at Charlie’s lips, and he shook his head. He pulled the string that fastened his trousers. His fingers, so recently upon Silas’s body, worked deftly to release the tie. Silas’s chest clenched, and the softening of his cock was halted in its tracks.
‘I’m sorry,’ Charlie whispered. …
Silas stared, silent, lips parted with his surprise.
A man had not stirred him after all. A man had not kissed him deeply.
Between Charlie’s legs it was dark and glistening. Silas started at the mound of hair, curls, and damp licks that were not so thick they could entirely cover the swell of plump lips beneath. A woman.
‘In my heart, I have always been Charlie, though my parents named me Charlotte. A pity my body betrays me so.’
That is on page 64. From this moment on, every reference to Charlie uses she/her pronouns. Not just the other characters, but the narration itself. For several weeks, I had to put the book down in disgust. I had to check other reviews to see if the misgendering and deadnaming would continue throughout because I was not going to invest a single minute more of my time reading what I considered hateful language. Every time Charlie got misgendered and deadnamed increasingly pissed. Me. Off. There is absolutely no reason why a book with a third-person narrator should so completely, systemically, and unfailingly misgender or deadname a trans character this way. It wasn’t until page 112 when Tyvan asks why Silas referred to Charlie as though he were a woman and Charlie himself happens to overhear and reply:
‘So is it a lad or lass, then? What is your fancy?’ …
‘Lad, and it is no fancy. It’s simply how it should always have been,’ came the reply. ‘Sometimes the wrong skin gets put on the wrong soul, you understand.’
Then, and only then, does the story return to not fucking misgendering Charlie*. I don’t care that Charlie himself was too busy fighting off reanimated corpses to correct every time Silas misgendered or deadnamed him. I can accept that Silas as a character needed so much time to wrap his head around transness. Silas was a character trying to understand. However, I do care, a-fucking-lot, that the damn book engages in this detestable treatment of a trans person. It is for this reason that I simply cannot rate this book as highly as I have the others in the series. Consider this a big trigger warning for anyone who cares about trans representation.
Overall, I thought this book is a good build on the previous two. The Skriker does a wonderful job using many of the elements already introduced earlier in the series, building upon and adding to them. The form does not follow the previous two books, which helps the action and the drama break in new ways that kept the series fresh for me. That said, I was just disgusted with the way Charlie gets handled in the book. Misgendering and deadnaming a trans character will never be acceptable to me, not from what was a third-person and what ought to have been an impartial narrative voice.
*Except for that one more misgendering on the very next page.