Skin Taker by Michelle Paver

Published by Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus, 2021.

Skin Taker is the eighth book in the hugely successful Wolf Brother series. It’s a series I’ve only recently discovered but, after reading and loving Viper’s Daughter, I was really keen to step back into Renn and Torak’s Stone Age world.

The book has a very dramatic opening: a meteorite – the Thunderstar – strikes the forest where Renn and Torak live, causing mass devastation. People, animals and trees are killed. I love how, from the outset, we are plunged straight into action. And the tension and excitement doesn’t really let up from there on in; Skin Taker is a pacy, adrenaline-fuelled adventure.

With their homes destroyed and sources of food limited, desperate clans battle for survival. Finding their world in turmoil, Torak, Renn and Wolf embark on a dangerous mission that will test them like never before – can they journey into the heart of the forest to perform a sacred rite and bring back the First Tree, thereby restoring the forest?

Michelle Paver writes incredibly well developed and believable characters. I was immediately invested in Torak, Renn and Wolf and cared deeply about their fates. I particularly liked the emotional journey that Torak goes on in Skin Taker. Troubled by a strange internal darkness after the Thunderstar has struck, Torak becomes increasingly reckless. As a spirit walker who has walked in the trees, he now physically feels the anguish of the devastated forest. This black web that plagues him is like a depression that, at times, threatens to consume him. We see Torak risk his sanity, his life and even his souls to save everything he loves.

As always, Michelle Paver evokes a wonderfully detailed world which fully immerses the reader in Stone Age life. Her story-telling is incredibly well-researched and everything – from hunting techniques and the animals in the forest, to the wild, natural landscapes – seems so authentic.

The book’s themes of loyalty, friendship and kinship are particularly strong and drive the narrative. Another significant theme which runs throughout the series is the way nature is honoured and respected. The Stone Age people have a sacred pact with nature, only taking what they need from their world and always being grateful for it. We could learn much from them today.

Another fascinating current that runs through the book is the power of the supernatural world and the ancient wisdom of mage magic. The clans feel a strong connection to their ancestors and there’s a reverence for tradition and rituals.

Skin Taker pits good against evil and Michelle Paver has given us a vicious and ruthless villain – the book sees the return of an old enemy – but it also shows us how, when frightened, people can turn on each other. I particularly enjoyed the book’s exploration of how fear can be manipulated and a population controlled by it.

At times, the book is thrillingly sinister and unsettling. The Skin-Takers of the title are terrifying and there are a number of brilliant scenes, full of heightened tension. I was often on the edge of my seat.

I have been recommending Skin Taker widely and my class are jostling to get their hands on my copy. It’s a gripping story of courage and survival, and of fighting demons – both physical and personal.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Head of Zeus for sending me this book to review.

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