Nuns--how can you not love 'em? And how about a gun-toting Irish nun who travels to America, hunting Springheel Jack, who just happens to be a werewolf? If that sounds as irresistible to you as it did to me, then you really must read DREADFUL SKIN, by Cherie Priest. Priest has written a series of excellent supernatural novels involving Eden Moore (starting with FOUR AND TWENTY BLACKBIRDS), but DREADFUL SKIN is a different . . . beast altogether, as well as a refreshingly original werewolf novel. While werewolves seem to be taking over space previously occupied by vampires in the paranormal romance department, Priest gives us truly vicious creatures, as well as a gritty 19th Century setting. Starting aboard a doomed steam boat on the Tennessee River, we follow Eileen (that gun-toting nun I told you about) and her efforts to put an end to Jack's reign of terror. Through her crusade, we meet a number of compelling characters, including former slaves, gamblers, river captains, and revival tent Christians. Things also sticky, as Priest has her werewolves unleash some pretty gruesome violence.
She also carries out some neat literary tricks without making them seem too gimmicky. Werewolves are, of course, essentially hybrid creatures, and Priest mirrors this hybridity by writing a novel that does not stick to conventional rules. Structured by three sections, Priest utilizes a different narrative device for each, ranging from stream of consciousness to an epistolary form that calls Bram Stoker's DRACULA to mind. One character describes her hatred of Jack, the primary lycanthrope as "some bizarre amalgam of creatures never meant to mate or cross." Passages like this suggest that Priest's playful combination of literary devices serve a shrewd purpose.
The book also comes peppered with some alluring illustrations by Mark Geyer. Published by Subterranean Press in 2007, DREADFUL SKIN is worthy of your attention!