Review: THE SKIN TRADE, by G.R.R. Martin


Reading, or in this case re-reading, the stories contained in the two-volume collection Dreamsongs always reminds me that G.R.R. Martin can speak in many voices, not just that of epic fantasy: The Skin Trade, a long novella or short novel depending on the point of view, is a perfect example of Martin’s wide variety of styles, mixing in this case both horror and urban fantasy in a story that’s quite compelling.

Willie Flambeaux is a collection agent, an unremarkable kind of guy saddled with asthma and a paunch, but he suddenly finds himself at the center of dreadful events as his friends are being murdered in the most savage way – as if mauled by an animal. He asks his friend Randi Wade, a private investigator, to look into the matter, even though he knows this will raise some dark ghosts from her past: twenty years before Randi’s father, a police officer, was killed by some kind of animal, so the official report went, an animal that was uncannily able to withstand being shot with the entire load of Wade Senior’s gun, and disappear.

As the two of them try to make sense of the evidence in the recent murder spree, and to overcome what looks like blindness or lack of interest from the police, we learn that Willie is a werewolf – or, as he prefers to say, a lycanthrope, and that there is a good number of these creatures in the city.  What’s even more alarming is that the victims of the ghastly murders were lycanthropes themselves, and that therefore – as the pack leader and unofficial city owner Jonathan Harmon warns Willie – there is someone or something that is hunting the hunters.

One of the most fascinating sides of this story, aside from its fast, compelling pace, is the new outlook adopted for the werewolf myth: the transformation is not dependent on the moon, as the werewolves can change at whim, and that in the shifted form they are more powerful, have more stamina and can overcome any physical problem present in their human aspect.  For example, Willie’s asthma disappears completely when he becomes a wolf, and his friend Joan – the first victim – though paralyzed as a human, was able to move and run when she changed.   Still, the lycanthropes are sensitive to silver, and that detail will prove very important in the course of the story…

Another element I enjoyed is the banter between Randi and Willie, who have known each other for a long time and despite their differences have managed to build a friendship that’s based on mutual respect and trust, even though it’s hidden under Randi’s verbal barbs and Willie’s futile but still enthusiastic attempts at seducing the investigator.  There is a slow buildup and an equally slow reveal about the creature that is killing werewolves all over the city, and the last part of the story is a breathless rush that will keep you turning the pages compulsively.

And on a side note, you can also appreciate this novella in audio format, where Randi Wade is played by Australian actress Claudia Black (a.k.a. Farscape’s Aeryn Sun), an experience I wholeheartedly recommend.

15 thoughts on “Review: THE SKIN TRADE, by G.R.R. Martin

  1. Hurray for Claudia Black. Man, she was so great!

    I’ve liked several things by Martin, so I should probably look into adding this to my tbr. I just hate, hate, hate how he’s dealing, or not as the case really is, Song of Fire and Ice. Not that I’d read SoFaI, but it’s the principle of the thing.

    Have you read Sandkings?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sandkings is included in the two-volume collection Dreamsongs, and I know I read it, but right now I have only a vague recollection of it – something about insects becoming more intelligent and in the end overcoming their human observer, right?
      Ok, I need to re-read that one as well! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. While I’m not generally a fan of GRRM’s stuff outside of his ASoIaF, I would DEFINITELY do this in audio. Claudia Black has the best voice, and she’s also a heck of a reader. She’s great voicing video games too. I’ve listened to a couple books narrated like her, it’s like listening to warm yummy melted chocolate – yes, I totally have a voice crush on her 😛

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I can understand your voice crush all too well! 🙂
      For this reason, I cannot recommend enough you try to listed to her interpretation of Martin’s The Glass Flower, where Black also does different voices for some characters: she is beyond amazing…


  3. I only know this story via audio by Claudia Black. They actually have two readers, a guy reading Willie’s point of view, and Claudia doing Randi’s. It’s quite enthralling and a great story. Perhaps it’s time for a revisit!

    Liked by 1 person

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