Catskinner’s Book by Misha Burnett

Catskinner's Book by Misha BurnettWhen required to place this book in a genre Burnett has previously chosen science fiction and urban fantasy. It might also be categorised as supernatural fiction or horror. The opening scenes have an ambience of crime noir and spy thriller. While the book very definitely contains speculative elements, the story takes precedence over the speculation, refusing to be confined by genre.

This novel is the first in the Book of Lost Doors series. The protagonist, James Ozryck, has shared his body with an inhuman consciousness since early childhood; a consciousness he calls Catskinner. Catskinner gives him access to superhuman abilities but also kills without apparent reason or compassion. He finds work as a contract assassin but the murder of his boss reveals Catskinner is not the only unnatural being in the world, and not all of them are as content to merely exist. Before James can build himself a new future he must try to understand his past.

At the core of this novel’s strength is the characterisation. As with Byronic heroes such as Milton’s Lucifer and Hammett’s Sam Spade, James Ozryck is unashamedly not a good man, but from the first page Burnett paints him a character flawed by extreme circumstance and environment; a man worthy of our sympathy. Catskinner is similarly well handled, possessing a distinct intelligible character without sacrificing its otherness. The competing drives of the two main characters blend to produce a dynamic balance between ensuring survival and having a reason to survive.

The complexity of motivation in James/Catskinner continues into the other characters. While characters might be of a particular gender or sexuality they act like individuals and not stereotypes, each displaying personal goals that temporarily coincide or conflict with others. However Burnett does not fall into the trap of making characters defy stereotypes for the sake of it; beyond the nuanced interaction of the key characters are many background interactions which realistically portray the hollow biases that power our stereotypes.

A similar depth is evident in the cosmology. The reader is slowly exposed to more of the magic concealed within every day society, each piece building on others and providing new possibilities for previous events until the disparate pieces fit together to not only show they are all aspects of one whole but also ignite speculation about how it might explain anomalies in the real world.

The book is written entirely from the perspective of James, which portrays very well his search for answers and frustration when he does not find them; however this identification with James can instil the same drive and the same frustration in the reader. As the book is well paced, and Burnett does not withhold information merely to extend the story, this frustration is quickly eased, but this is not a book for readers who do not enjoy the satisfaction of a hard-won explanation.

This is one of the best books I have read this year. The fusion of an engaging plot with a complex world make it enjoyable both as a thrilling adventure and a metaphysical exploration. I recommend it to anyone who does not limit themselves to strict realism.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review


Details of how to obtain a signed copy of this book can be found here.


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11 thoughts on “Catskinner’s Book by Misha Burnett

  1. I just finished Catskinner and kudos to you for the metaphysical comment. James is a wonderful character — the monster/victim that we definitely root for

    I normally read paranormal and while this book is not categorized as paranormal I think people who enjoy quirky worlds would enjoy the read.

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    1. I am glad to hear my review captures some of the key aspects.

      I know Misha has issues with putting books into genres; especially as most retailers do not let you put an unlimited number of labels. Having read many paranormal romances myself, I can definitely see romance lovers enjoying the relationship sub-plot. I could see it working as LGBT romance too.

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      1. I don’t get the LGBT connection and the paranormal aspect was related more to the urban fantasy and world building rather than romance. Though I do enjoy James’ reaction to Godiva

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        1. The active members of the LGBT community (at least in the UK) often enjoy portrayals of non-heteronormative relationships, even if they do not match their personal orientation; so James/Godiva would certainly meet their definition of queer.

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