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Skin

by Christian Baines

Kyle, a young newcomer to New Orleans, is haunted by the memory of his first lover, brutally murdered just outside the French Quarter.

Marc, a young Quarter hustler, is haunted by an eccentric spirit that shares his dreams, and by the handsome but vicious lover who shares his bed.

When the barrier between these men comes down, it will prove thinner than the veil between the living and the dead…or between justice and revenge.

This book is on:
  • 4 To Be Read lists
  • 1 Read list
Published:
Publisher: Bold Strokes Books
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Pairings: MM
Heat Level: 4
Romantic Content: 2
Character Identities: Gay
Protagonist 1 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 2 Age: 18-25
Protagonist 3 Age: 18-25
Tropes: Criminals & Outlaws, Forbidden Love, Interracial Relationship, Lone Wolf
Word Count: 45,000
Setting: New Orleans, LA, United States
Languages Available: English
Reviews:Camille on Joyfully Jay wrote:

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.

Sally on Sinfully MM Book Reviews wrote:

One of the best things about being a reviewer is that there's an opportunity to try new things and read books that perhaps might not have been offered on the third party booksellers sites. My “since you bought A, you might like B" offerings tend to stick pretty closely to historical fiction or non-fiction with an occasional sci-fi. But since I was lucky enough to see this charming young author at the excellent ShiMMer event in July, when his latest release popped up on the review list I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm so glad I did. Skin couldn't be called a romance, even though the main plot driver is that men will do a lot in the name of love. It's part murder mystery, though the mystery is whether the perpetrator will get away with it. It's a thriller to the extent that I had to put it down once or twice to get my breath back. There are paranormal elements with an inclination towards spine chilling horror. Add to all that a sharply laconic style and deft, if heartwrenching, descriptions and you have a riveting read.

The story follows four young men. Kyle is recently arrived in New Orleans and when he meets Antoine it isn't long before they are taking their first steps into a new yet very loving relationship. Meanwhile Marc is another recent arrival but he meets Ash, a very different kind of man, and soon their relationship is anything but loving. Antoine's murder sparks off a series of harrowing experiences for both Kyle and Marc as they try to survive with little money in a dangerous world that is happy to exploit them. Kyle in particular is put through the wringer as he tries all and any means to find out who was responsible for Antoine's death, but Marc too suffers as he is drawn further and further into Ash's ugly and corrupt world.

So, to recap, not romance but a very satisfying novel with some heart-stopping moments. Read it, I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Lisa on The Novel Approach wrote:

“He who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster,” is one of Friedrich Nietzsche most famous quotes. Of course, he continues from there to talk about gazing long into the abyss. It’s a theme author Christian Baines delivers in his latest novel, Skin, and he made my perseverance pay off, as I had little to no clue where this book was going for the longest time; then, when I finally had the ‘what’ figured out, I still couldn’t suss out the ‘how’ of it. When that was finally revealed, and it made about as much sense as a story such as this can make, I had to give a mental ovation to the author for not only keeping me on the hook but making my patience and tenacity worth the while.

Some of the characters in this novel are portrayed as rather despicable people. Racist, homophobic, misogynistic, violent and foul-mouthed, this is not a book with a clear hero to root for—there is no one person I felt truly deserving of a happy ending by book’s end. Kyle becomes more an antihero, Marc is elusive, and the one likable character, Antoine, meets his untimely end just as he and Kyle begin what might have been a lovely romance. It’s made clear from the moment of Antoine’s sudden and violent death that this wasn’t going to be a light or cheerful read. There were some characters, however, whom I felt got what they deserved, which speaks with extreme eloquence to my sense of karmic justice.

At its core, this is a tale of murder and revenge, and the author makes no apologies for these characters or their antagonistic roles in the story. This novel, by virtue of its characterizations, might make you admit to your own inclination to find people such as Ash, for example, more than a little off-putting (understatement). His internalized homophobia informs his hostility towards the men in the story as much as his bigotry is worn like a Confederate birthright, which plays into a current events realism. These aren’t overt political statements as much as the author being opportunistic and using this brand of ugly to good effect in the overall storyline. There was plenty in Skin that made me uncomfortable, and that was the point. I wasn’t supposed to feel good about what was playing out on the page, so success there. It’s characters such as these, in fact, that Wilde might have referred to if he’d been talking about men whose realistic depictions “show the world its own shame.”

What keeps Skin from being anything but a run of the mill urban horror novel is its setting. There is nothing colorless or commonplace about the city of New Orleans or the Louisiana Voodoo the city is known for, which figures prominently as the plot unfolds. It seems that I learn something new about New Orleans in every book I read with the city as its setting, and it’s obvious the author did his homework in the writing of this novel. NOLA isn’t only Mardi Gras, jazz, beignets, and crawfish. It’s ghosts and spellcraft, has a seedy underbelly all its own, and is rich in its own culture and history, too, which lends itself in the best way to this brand of fiction. I appreciated the local flavor Baines gave to the book.

This book wasn’t released in time for Halloween, but there’s never a bad time for some fresh hell sort of horror. Telling the story in alternating points of view worked to purposely confound me and keep me guessing. The revealing moments in Skin are presented in a taut pace and with descriptive narrative that makes those scenes come to life in a deadly and fearsome way. I loved the final plot twist, which I didn’t see coming, at all, and was a great cap-off to all the weird and violence that led up to it. This is not a novel for the squeamish nor those looking for romantic escapism. Skin pushes boundaries and exposes the good and the bad of a city unlike any other in the world, while playing up some of the things that makes her unique and then contrasting them with the violence wrought by her lesser humans.

It’d be a lie if I said I liked this book for all the usual reasons. I liked it for all the unusual reasons Christian Baines gave me to love hating some of its characters, and feeling horrified by their crimes, and feeling validated by the cosmic payback heaped upon them. And, it’s certainly made me think twice about being happy in my own skin.


Contains scenes of sexual violence.

About the Author

Christian Baines has written on travel, theatre, film, television, and various aspects of gay life, factual and fictional. Some of his stranger thoughts have spawned novels, including queer urban fantasy series The Arcadia Trust, the horror novella Skin, and Puppet Boy, which was a finalist for the 2016 Saints and Sinners Emerging Writer Award. Born in Australia, he now travels the world whenever possible, living, writing, and shivering in Toronto, Canada on those odd occasions he can't find his passport.


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