________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 17. . . .January 6, 2012


Legend of the Ring. (The Skinwalker Novels).

D.M. Ouellet.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2011.
105 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-14-6.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Rebecca King.

** /4


Wolves at the Gate. (The Skinwalker Novels).

E.L. Thomas.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2011.
113 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-16-0.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Rebecca King.

** /4


Walking Both Sides. (The Skinwalker Novels).

C.A. Rainfield.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2011.
105 pp., pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-15-3.

Grades 6-9 / Ages 11-14.

Review by Rebecca King.

** /4


Skinwalkers Teacher's Guide.

Lori Jamison.
Toronto, ON: HIP Books, 2011.
24 pp., stapled, $7.95.
ISBN 978-1-926847-17-7.


Review by Rebecca King.

** /4


Legend of the Ring review:

In the magical middle ages, humans and Skinwalkers* lived side by side" (From promotional material for the "Skinwalkers" series.)

[*The Skinwalkers are shapeshifters, able to change their shape to one animal. They consider those who cannot change shape to be Oneskins. The Oneskins consider themselves to be the only humans. At the time of these stories, the humans are the dominant race.]

An inner voice warned him that the wolf in the road hadn't moved.

Something was wrong.

Then a second wolf leapt from behind a tree. It curled back its upper lip and growled low in its throat.

Ross knew how to change course quickly to avoid a trap. He bolted to the right and cut across the trail to the other side.

A third wolf stepped slowly from behind a bush.

A trap! The wolves had set a trap. How was that possible!

The third wolf yipped and yowled. It sounded strangely like a human laugh.

Instinct made the hairs on Ross's neck stand up. He shifted nervously from one foot to the other.
Stupid. Stupid, he thought. What am I going to do now?

Just as he though he was done for, Ross heard a gruff voice from behind him.

"I told you to wait," Bernard panted, out of breath. Then he thrust forward a flaming torch. "Get out of here, you devils," he shouted.

There is nothing wolves fear more than fire. (From
Legend of the Ring.)


     Ross and Bernard are friends who live in a small seaside village. Ross lives with his uncle who operates a stable and treats him badly. Bernard is strong and easy-going, the son of a fisherman who seems to be kind to everyone.

      When a stallion is killed by wolves, Ross is sent out to set wolf traps. Bernard accompanies him. Their work is interrupted when they see a girl running from wolves and a dark horseman. Ross, who is a very fast runner, follows the girl and, with Bernard's help, rescues her. Bernard warns Ross to be cautious when he takes the girl, Cat, back to the stable where he lives. Bernard is right to distrust Cat as she searches Ross's possessions, finding an ancient ring that his mother gave him. Cat betrays Ross by giving information about the ring to Lord Damon, the dark horseman, and Lord Damon takes the ring.

      Ross is saved from Lord Damon by a fire mare who causes the stable to catch on fire. Cat is forgiven because Lord Damon was holding her brother hostage.

      The story plays out with several attempted and successful rescues and a battle for who will be king of the Skinwalkers.

      The nonstop action keeps the reader's interest, if not, perhaps, leaving the reader breathless. The plot of this volume concentrates on the conflict between two groups of Skinwalkers – the wolf clan against almost every other clan.

      The conflict between Skinwalkers and Oneskins is only occasionally mentioned, though Bernard is treated as a captive in the Skinwalker camp. He is almost unbelievably loyal and even-tempered, accepting being treated as a prisoner with equanimity.

      The dialogue is not consistently natural. For example, these speeches come from Bernard on two facing pages. "And who are her people? You know nothing about his girl, my friend. Maybe she really is a thief. Maybe she's a witch." And "She sure is easy on the eyes, ain't she." This does not establish Bernard's character consistently, nor does it clarify his relationship with Ross.

Wolves at the Gate review:

Ren paused, looking up at the gallows again. He had never seen a Skinwalker this close before. He wondered what kind of animal the man would turn into. A bear, maybe, with those thick arms. Or a monster. There was no way to know.

The Skinwalker seemed afraid. Tears leaked into his beard. His lips moved quickly. Perhaps he was making a final prayer. Did Skinwalkers pray? Perhaps he was just scared. Ren looked away.

Up ahead was a young man in a short blue cloak. He seemed careless, perhaps from drink or excitement. The man's purse hung unguarded at his side. Perfect.

Ren pushed his was in to place behind the man. He fingered the knife hidden in his belt. His stomach growled again.

"Get on with it!" someone called up to the guard.

"String 'em up," cried another. The crowd cheered.

The blue-cloaked man blocked Ren's view. That didn't matter. Ren had learned to judge his timing by the noises. He never had to look at bodies on the gallows.

So Ren listened. First came the Priest's words, deep and loud. Then there were jeers from the crowd as the ropes were put over each head. Then whispers of excitement, waiting for the moment. And finally a creaking noise as the ropes swung tight. That was the noise that made Ren dig his fingernails into his palm.

The roar that followed was Ren's cue. He sliced through the man's purse strings just as the crowd surged forward. Ren let himself be swept along.

Finally, the show was over. The crowd began to break up. Ren shuffled forward, looking for a way out. He needed to put distance between himself and the man in the blue cloak.

When there was room, he walked away quickly. Ren hunched over, hiding the purse. No running. Not yet. It was too soon. If he ran, he might be noticed.

Ren was almost clear when he heard the shout.

"Stop, thief!" (From
Wolves at the Gate.)


Ren, who was trained as a thief by his father, is now an orphan because his father, also a thief, was caught and hanged. As Ren searches the crowd at a hanging for a suitable mark, he is mildly interested in the Skinwalker who is to be hanged. He is too concerned with his own survival to hate the Skinwalker as the people of the crowd seem to do.

      After Ren's theft is noticed, he runs desperately to escape capture. In the process, he knocks a young girl off a bridge into a swiftly flowing river. Though Ren cannot swim, he jumps in after the girl, finding that he has some natural ability to swim. However, as he pulls the girl out of the river, he is captured by the guards and then is thrown into a cell with a Skinwalker who belongs to the wolf clan. Though Ren is fearful at first, he makes friends with Connor, the wolf clan member, and escapes with him when Connor's sister arrives to rescue Connor. Ren's fate as an outlaw is sealed when he accidentally kills one of the pursuing guards.

      Ren is welcomed by the wolf clan when it is discovered that he is also a Skinwalker, a member of the fox clan, and has information about the city where he lived. Ren's information is important as the clan is hoping to ambush King Rudgerd, a cruel man who persecutes and kills Skinwalkers, as the king travels to Ren's city.

      Wolves at the Gate is the strongest of the three novels in this series. The plot is more straightforward and compelling. Though rescues and battles abound, Ren is a more interesting character as he develops and changes in the course of the novel. He learns to trust others, value friendship, and choose the good of his friends over his own safety.

Walking Both Sides review:

The whole village seemed to be celebrating the death of the Skinwalker.

"Claire—the Skinwalker Killer!" a boy shouted.

Claire halted in surprise. Usually, none of the villagers spoke to her, not unless they were mocking her for having Skinwalker blood. But now they thought she'd taken part in the killing. Claire shuddered and started walking again.

More people shouted out to her, but she pretended she didn't hear them. Claire walked faster toward her grandfather's house.

Claire's grandfather waited in the doorway, his eyes full of shadows. "Kelsey killed one, didn't he?" he asked.

Claire nodded, her eyes stinging.

"There goes another piece of magic from our world," the old man said. He looked so sad and weary, Claire wanted to weep. (From
Walking Both Sides.)


Kelsey and Claire are cousins, and their mothers and grandmother have been killed by the people in their poor village because they had Skinwalker blood and were able to change their shapes. Claire lives with her grandfather, a peaceful man who likes and trusts Skinwalkers and who wishes that Skinwalkers and humans were able to live at peace. Claire also wishes for a peaceful life. Kelsey has been bullied all his life by the village boys for his Skinwalker heritage, and he has responded by hating Skinwalkers possibly more vehemently than the villagers do.

     After a hard winter, Kelsey and Claire are out hunting with bows and arrows for some game for food. They see a deer, an animal which they should not kill because all deer belong to the king. Even when Claire realizes it is not an ordinary deer but a Skinwalker, Kelsey seems determined to shoot the deer anyway. Claire warns Kelsey and tries to ruin his shot, but he shoots anyway. He kills the deer, which, as it is a Skinwalker, reverts to its human shape. They return to the village where Kelsey proclaims himself a hero and Claire sorrowfully reports the event to her grandfather.

      Unfortunately the villagers' celebration is interrupted by the arrival of a group of the king's guards. They arrest Kelsey and Claire for hunting the king's deer, a crime that may be mitigated by the fact that the dead deer was actually a Skinwalker. While Kelsey and Claire are dragged off to prison, the guards, who are carrying the body of the dead Skinwalker, are attacked by a group of wolf and deer Skinwalkers who want to claim the body. After a fight in which the guards are injured or killed by the Skinwalkers, Kelsey and Claire are taken to a Skinwalker camp. Kelsey is a prisoner, but Claire is considered a guest because one of the deer Skinwalkers witnessed the fact that she tried to prevent Kelsey from shooting the Skinwalker. Additional conflict between the villagers and the Skinwalkers resolves peacefully because Claire and Ned, the Skinwalker who helped her, stand up for peace.

      Of the three novels in this series, Walking Both Sides is the only one with a female protagonist. Claire is the best shot with a bow in the village as well as a stalwart proponent of peace. At one point, she stands between the leader of the village and Ned in the middle of a battle to stop them from hurting each other. She finds Ned's peaceful character as attractive as his soft brown eyes and curly red brown hair.

      The story line focuses on the conflict between the humans and the Skinwalkers. It does not explain how the conflict began, nor does it explain how Claire's village will face the king's guards the next time they come to the village after finding the bodies of their fellows killed by the Skinwalkers. Certainly the king, who has been hunting Skinwalkers, will not look kindly on a village that now welcomes Skinwalkers.

      Though the story touches issues of character and tolerance of people who are different, it does so at a simplistic level that doesn't bear close scrutiny.

Looking at the series as a whole, it is admirable that H-I-P Books wants to provide books in the fantasy genre in the high interest format. There are many entries in the high interest area, but they are principally contemporary stories, some with sports and mystery themes, but nothing in the fantasy or science fiction area. These books are much needed.

      I would have hoped that these books would appeal to general readers as well as to their target audience, as do the books in the "Orca Soundings" series. However, just the look of these books, the covers, and the illustrations inside are not likely to appeal to the general reader. Recent series in the YA fantasy genre – "The Lamplighter" series by D.M. Cornish, the "Leviathan" series by Scott Westerfeld, and the "Abarat" series by Clive Barker have spectacular illustrations. While production budgets for these books are doubtless higher than those for the H-I-P books, the H-I-P graphics could be better than they are – the covers are uninspiring, and the illustrations are unattractive and sometimes inaccurately portray the events described in the text. This could be a problem for helping the reluctant reader "see" the characters as suggested in the Teacher's Guide to the series.


He was naked in front of them…One of the Rangers shrugged off his cape and handed it to Ren. It was too short to do much good. Ren wrapped it around his waist like a skirt. He still felt quite foolish but less exposed. (from Wolves at the Gate, pp. 80-81).

internal art     The fact that the three books in the series are set in the same time and place, but that otherwise the stories are not dependent on one another, is useful. A student who has read one book has internalized the setting information, and Skinwalker characteristics. This makes reading a second book more immediately accessible. However, the three books together and individually seem to have failed to resolve some of the basic issues necessary to the way things work in their reality, such as, for instance, the question of clothing for Skinwalkers in their human form. Obviously a Skinwalker in animal form cannot run around in clothes. Skinwalkers don't, however, seem to spend much time taking their clothes off before changing into their animal shape. They do seem to take care to go out of sight when changing back into human form, for modesty's sake, when they find a clothing cache. It is interesting that these clothing caches seem to stock unisex garments that seem to fit anyone from a hulking boar clan member to the delicate – at least in her human form – Cat. Ned of the deer clan finds a tunic in a hollow tree within sight of Claire's village. Has he been spying? How do they know where to find the caches? Is there a mark or a map? Where do they get the clothes? Are there weavers among the Skinwalkers? Do they go to a market town? What do they have to trade? In Legend of the Ring, there is a ring with Skinwalker writing on it, but readers are never shown a Skinwalker society that could have created this item.

      Perhaps one of the great appeals for me of a good fantasy or science fiction novel is that the novelist creates a complete world, usually well thought out with details, laws, and attitudes that can be unique. The vision in this series is incomplete. That being said, the series is working within the constraints of the high interest format with a limited word count. The authors are depending on readers having a basic knowledge of middle ages, magical or otherwise, and using this knowledge to provide a backdrop for their understanding. This knowledge may be missing in their target audience.

      Though I did not find the three stories in the "Skinwalkers" series completely satisfying, they were action packed and had a good balance of strong male and female characters. While they cannot be scrutinized too carefully for verisimilitude, they do fill a large gap in the high interest catalogue by providing entries in the fantasy category not previously available.

      HIP offers a Teacher's Guide to accompany the "Skinwalkers" series. Included in the guide are information on Literature Circles, the Skinwalker novels as a series, a brief discussion of the writing of the novels by their authors, pre-reading activities and information on each individual novel. For each novel, there is a plot synopsis, a section called "Guiding Students Through" the novel which divides the novel into sections and suggests discussion topics for each section, an additional exercise, and a quiz which could be photocopied for student use. This guide could be very useful to a busy classroom or resource teacher who is trying to support a range of students to successful completion of a book report assignment.


Rebecca King is a Library Support Specialist (Elementary and Junior High) with the Halifax Regional School Board in Halifax, NS.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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