Skulk, by Rosie Best

Title: Skulk
Author: Rosie Best
Publisher: Strange Chemistry
Publication date: 3rd October 2013 (UK)
Rating: ★

Skulk-144dpiThere are so many things about Skulk that I loved the hell out of. Rosie Best presents a thoroughly realistic view of London and a fantastic view of actual and real life. This urban fantasy felt authentically urban and it really fitted the tone, theme and imagined world of the story. It was gritty in that it showed every side of a metropolitan city; cities aren’t always pretty, there’s garbage and mess and graffiti.

But it was also real in that it showed the richer side of town. I’m making such a point of this, because it’s so rare to have not just one side, or the other side, but all sides of a picture. It’s as though Best takes a panorama shot of London and crams as much detail as possible into each part of the shot. Her London feels real. Which is kind of handy, since it is.

An inventive and imaginative YA urban fantasy, when Meg is disturbed whilst—ahem—painting graffiti onto her perfectly white private school wall, her life changes forever. A shapeshifting fox dies and entrusts her with a stone she knows nothing about, giving her an ability she never even dreamed possible.

Meg’s life is dull, at least by comparison with her party-loving friends. Except that it’s not: when she’s out designing and painting her art across the urban landscape of London, Meg’s life is anything but dull.

But when she’s at home, her abusive mother constantly berates her for her lack of perfection, for not being slimmer or smarter or more like her. With memories of her mother’s hand fast in her hair, her head pushed into the bowl of the toilet and forced to vomit, or the dark and close confines of the wardrobe her mother has locked her in when she misbehaves since she was a child, Meg is happier for the sudden change in her life than she perhaps ought to be.

But then, never before has Meg been able to experience London as a fox. The new sights and smells completely enchant Meg and she experiences freedom for the first time in her life. As a fox she eats chicken bones in a dirty alley, completely at odds with the scolding she received for eating a meagre handful of nuts “stolen” from the larder at home, where the fridge is padlocked and her diet is monitored and punished. Meg’s mother, a powerful and climbing politician, can sometimes scarcely bear to look at her size sixteen daughter without expressing how disappointed she is in her, for no other reason that Meg can see, other than for simply being “Meg”.

Before Meg knows it, she is pulled into something deeper than just her new shapeshifting powers. There are others like her. At first Meg meets other foxes, who make up the members of the Skulk, but she soon learns that there are other shapeshifters with other animal forms. As if that wasn’t extraordinary enough, she then learns of the relevancy of the stone she took from the dying fox and just what its disappearance means. The stone did not belong to the Skulk and now Meg must try to return it to its rightful owners.

Only, in this new world where her friends are no longer only human and she recognises people by scent and sense, Meg has no idea where to really start looking. A legend told about the stone, and more like it, keeps her focussed, but when her new, wonderful world begins to grow dangerous and she starts to see blood spilled before her eyes, Meg is terrified that she won’t enjoy this newfound freedom for long. Because something twisted and nasty is afoot, and if she doesn’t get to the bottom of what’s happening soon, she will likely end up dead.

Skulk is an absolute page-turner that I couldn’t put down; it was just brilliant. There’s absolutely nothing to say about Skulk that isn’t positive… there just isn’t. One of the best Strange Chemistry books to date, this is within my top three books. It’s completely unforgettable and exciting. The characters are real and human and I imagine that when I’m in London this weekend, I might see Meg skulking about. With identifiable characters that break the YA norm of all being within the YA range themselves, Best has quite literally taken a fistful of real life and smeared it all over the book. I especially admired the parental abuse: it wasn’t sexual, it wasn’t physical, but it’s still there and it’s still relevant and highlights that there are about a million different flavours of abuse. I like when difference is demonstrated; I like when it’s done with skill. Meg is one of the most rounded, realistic YA heroines I’ve read in a long time and I loved her. She’s fun and quirky and interesting. Meg is definitely not a forgettable heroine.

Skulk ends on one of the most gripping, frustrating (in a good way!) cliffhangers that I have ever seen: there needs to be another Skulk book and I need it in my hands, now. Another nugget of Strange Chemistry gold.

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