In the interests of full disclosure, let me state that I do know the author of this book. Not as well as I should, perhaps, but we are intimately connected.
He’s me. I wrote this book. There are a lot of really excellent reasons why an author should never review her or his own book, reasons which I will now blithely ignore.
Reading and writing about GoodReads has made me think about the division between authors and reviewers, and I wondered, if I were to write a review of my own book, what would it be like?
And so, without further ado…
Catskinner’s Book (Volume One: The Book Of Lost Doors). Written by Misha Burnett, self-published via Amazon. 281 pages. Genre: Speculative Fiction
Rating: 4 (of 5) stars. To be honest, one of those is for originality. Burnett has created a new mythology in this book. You can see some of his influences; William Burroughs’ Nova Express novels, Clive Barker’s Cenobites, C. S. Lewis’s Silent Planet trilogy. The world of Catskinner’s Book and the upcoming Cannibal Hearts is an original creation, however, uniquely his. Because I enjoy discovering original worlds, I give this one four stars–if he had stuck with your basic vampires and werewolves I’d probably rate it a solid three.
Overview: The story begins with James, a pleasant if somewhat simple young man, working behind the counter at an electrical supply house. It becomes clear very quickly that the business is just a front and James’ real business is assassination. He has an alternate personality–an entity that he calls Catskinner who is able to take over his body and use it as a very efficient killing machine.
James’ life is disrupted very early in the book, however, by a woman who is able to immobilize Catskinner and kill James’ boss, a repellent and not-entirely human character named Victor. James then finds himself caught in the middle of a battle between Outsiders–alien intelligences who work behind the scenes influencing human development for their own ends.
Characters: The book is told in first person, by James, in a very conversational style. Despite Catskinner’s impressive body count, James is a basically likable guy. Being host to Catskinner has forced him to be a loner and all that he really wants is to be left in peace.
Along the way he meets Godiva, a young woman who turns out to be much more than she appears to be. Although the relationship between James and Godiva is a pivotal part of this novel, that relationship isn’t exactly a romance. Nothing in this world is straightforward, everything is a little bit twisted, influenced by the shadowy Outsiders.
The other characters are just odd enough to be believable, people who have been exposed to the secret world under the surface and deal with it in different ways. In general I found the characters sympathetic enough to keep me interested.
Story: The plot is basically film noir. Boy meets girl and then everyone tries to kill them for no readily apparent reason. This isn’t what I’d call a plot-driven novel–there are no clear objectives beyond surviving the next attack, and James spends most of the book with no real idea of what is going on. The ending is weak–another reviewer described the ending as having “more loose ends than the Flying Spaghetti Monster.” For me it worked, though, the elements of confusion and paranoia made me care about James and Godiva and want them to be okay in the end.
Recommendations: I would recommend this book to readers who enjoy speculative fiction along the lines of Phillip Dick and Samuel Delany. Burnett provides his reader with glimpses of a secret world without ever revealing the entirety of the cosmos–one is left with the feeling of vast machineries behind the veneer of ordinary life. It is a flawed novel, certainly, but one that is enjoyable and, I think, gives the reader things to think about after the book is closed.
[Whew… that was a lot harder than I expected. An interesting exercise, though, and one that I would suggest to other authors. Try writing a review of your own book as if someone else had written it. It made me really think about how my work comes across to readers.]