Sunday, 13 September 2015

Review: The Skin Trade by George R. R. Martin

It's been a while since I read something related to werewolves and it occurred to me that it was the high time to do it when I learned that there was such a story by George R. R. Martin that I had not yet read. The Skin Trade is a very long novella that has been published in numerous collections, the latest one being the easiest to find: Dreamsongs, volume II by the author himself. It has also been adapted into a graphic novel by Daniel Abraham and Mike Wolfer. I got my hands on both versions and read them back-to-back in order to really see how the adaptation had succeeded.

The story is a mix of horror and mystery as the main protagonists, Willie Flambeaux and Randi Wade try to find out who is murdering Willie's friends and acquaintances in the most horrific manner. It all seems to connect also with the murder of Randi's father and half a dozen young children that happened almost two decades earlier. Early on the story seems to follow rather a predictable path, but the solution and end bring on some twists that I, at least, could not foresee.

One of the protagonists, Willie Flambeaux is himself a werewolf, but rather than being the stereotypical strong and imposing type, he is diminutive and generally not very spectacular to look at. In his own words, "It's a medical condition. I got allergies, I got asthma, I got a bad back, and I got lycanthropy, is it my fault?". Randi, on the other hand, knows nothing of this world at the beginning of the story, and must face both her past and the world that she thought she knew as the story progresses.

Overall, Martin's writing is lively and easy to read. For someone who's read much about werewolf mythology, it is clear that Martin has done his research as well. His werewolves are quadruped - basically wolves - and are not dependent on the full moon, which Martin correctly explains is merely a Hollywood invention. But they _are_ vulnerable to silver. The story itself depends on a certain old myth of werewolf capabilities that I'm not going to reveal here, but it was great to see this particular aspect dealt with in a modern story - as gruesome as it is.

The graphic novel is, unfortunately, a far lesser experience. A lot of the nuance of the storytelling is absent and many plot points are unnecessarily clarified to the readers just in case they missed them otherwise - which managed only to water down the affect of those events and scenes. Certain details of the werewolf mythology are lost as well, which is a pity. The art style is rather stiff and unimaginative. Overall, the existence of the graphic novel is not justified in any way - it is a lesser telling of the story and the art actually manages to restrict and limit the readers' own imagination, turning horrific scenes into something far less.

Although The Skin Trade is not one of the best werewolf stories that I've read, it was still worth a read. It also gives a good look at the extent of the kinds of fiction that GRRM has dabbled on before he found his gold mine. Incidentally, a film adaptation of this same story should be in the works as well...

4/5 for the novella, 2/5 for the graphic novel.