BOOK IN REVIEW: The Skinwalker's Apprentice by Claribel Ortega8:48 AM
Author: Claribel Ortega
Publication Date: February 24, 2014 (Available for pre-order January 20, 2014)
E-book: 120 pages
Rating: 2/5 stars
The Skinwalker's Apprentice is about Margo Pennyfeather and Emerald Kipp, two witches separated by hundreds of years in time, but who share one inescapable fate. Margo Pennyfeather is a witch in the 1600s, struggling to survive in colonial America. Margo has always been an outcast, unkown and unloved by everyone except her family. She is given the chance of a lifetime; to apprentice for the Priestess, the most important witch of the magical world. However, Margo's apprenticeship is not what it seems, and the young witch ultimately faces a darkness that threatens to destroy everything she knows. In contrast, Emerald Kipp is a normal teenager in New York City, 1980. The only remarkable thing about her is her bright blue hair and her magical ability. The book narrates her existential crisis as she gallivants around New York City. The Skinwalker's Apprentice is a prequel to The Empire Witch Series, the upcoming Emerald Kipp series.
Initially, I had high hopes for this book. I've always been a fan of high and urban fantasy, presenting the opportunity for a reader to delve into fantasy stories in a human world. And there is no topic more interesting than witches. Witches are an integral part of our world history and mythology. Whether they are presented as beautiful beings and protectors, or evil crones, there has always been a question about the integral magic in our world, and in ourselves. Add to that the split narrative exploring different timelines (essentially different words) and this could have been my literary kryptonite. Alas, the Skinwalker's apprentice had potential; but failed to deliver.
The Skinwalker's Apprentice has an interesting premise; a young witch's apprenticeship to the most powerful witch of her time is not the blessing she thinks it is. The magic and the mystery were very interesting, as was a look at life in colonial America, especially for a young witch. Margo's storyline was by far the more compelling of the two, and painted a picture of the witches' world and magic. It provided a much needed sense of action and adventure, that kept me turning the pages. Margo in particular was a very engaging character; her kindness, bravery and her love for her family had me rooting for her.The conclusion of her story was a thrilling cliffhanger; that makes one imagine just how much Margo's actions intersect or influence the future. In contrast, Emerald's storyline is the 'urban' part of the urban fantasy, as it introduces the reader to a rebellious young witch who's life is unremarkable in everyway except for her magic. Emerald's storyline is the more emotional of the two, her fears about her future and her identity something that resonates in all of us. The book was well-written and easy to read, I breezed past it in less than two hours. There were some parts of this book that I really enjoyed, and left me curious and wanting more.
The Skinwalker's Apprentice is set up as a prequel, and it feels like one.Margo and Emerald's storylines are essentially introductions, Margo's is used for world-building, to establish the mythology in Ortega's magical world, while Emerald's narrative is to allow the reader to meet the characters in The Empire Witch Series There is simultaneously too much and too little information. The author glosses over the mythology and speeds through the plot, but at the same time, seems reluctant to introduce or develop integral characters apart from revealing their names. The author tries too hard to pace the storyline, that she somehow manages to make it progress too slowly and too quickly at the same time. Margo's storyline suffers the most, as Ortega glosses over the details of her apprenticeship; dismissing her tutelage in mere paragraphs as opposed to chapters. Any mention of her magical ability is limited to token sentences that involve conjuring and potion-making, without any exploration to her mythology. Surprisingly little is said about magic, especially in a book about witches.
In contrast, Emerald's storyline seemed to drag on forever, her journey throughout New York City as she bemoans her existential crisis spanned 12344567 chapters when it could have been dismissed in a paragraph. The set up is this: providing a history as to who and what a Skinwalker is and thereby putting into motion a thrillng story about magic and witchery in an urban setting. Ortega does first what most authors do later, she puts out a prequel before the actual book series. In doing so, the book expects readers to have existing knowledge about the characters, the setting and the mythology. It feels more like a summary of a book than an actual book itself.
I understand that this book is supposed to seem more like a sneak peek into Emerald's life before the action starts. That in itself is the problem. Prequels are often created to provide fans with a peek into the hero/heroine's life before they knew them; a driving interest in the tedious everyday life of fantasy heroines before the fantasy is usually clamored for when the reader has already gone through the action with the character. By introducing Emerald's character into the prequel, Ortega just makes it drag on and on, condensing the plot into one snapshot of Emerald's life. Withholding too much information so as to ostensibly save Emerald for later books does more bad than good. Her tedious journey throughout New York City just bored me, and her problems seemed almost trivial when intersected with Margo's much more compelling storyline. On paper, Emerald could have been an engaging heroine, but her dragging storyline just left me exhausted.
The Skinwalker's Apprentice may be a good read for fans of the genre, but its wonky pacing and premature characterization leaves readers with a sense of frustration. it fails to capture the absurdity and essence of magic and fails to establish any sort of mythology. The plot has potential, and future books in the series may improve and deliver, but the pacing of the book places too much importance of creating hype and mystery for subsequent books that the author forgets that a prequel in itself is also requires plot not just exposition.