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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Anthony Frances: SKINDANCER

Author: Anthony Frances
Ratings: V5; S3; H3
Publisher and Titles: Bell Bridge Books: Frost Moon (2011); Blood Rock (TBA); Liquid Fire (TBA) 

     Just to give you a flavor for this great new series, here’s the first paragraph, which introduces Dakota Frost, the best magical tattoo artist in the Southeast (her tattoos come to life):

     “I first started wearing a Mohawk to repel low-lifes—barflies, vampires, Republicans, and so on—but when I found my true profession it turned into an ad. People’s eyes are drawn by my hair—no longer a true Mohawk, but a big, unruly “deathhawk,” a stripe of feathered black, purple and white streaks climbing down the center of my head—but their gaze lingers on the tattoos, which start as tribal vines in the shaved spaces on either side of the ’hawk and then cascade down my throat to my shoulders, flowering into roses and jewels and butterflies.” 

     In this series, we have a truly original heroine, comfortable in her own colorful skin and living on the edge between the mundane and the mysterious. In an alternate Atlanta (circa 2006), magic is alive in the Edgeworld—the edgy, restless culture that blends the human and the supernatural worlds. Dakota is a true Edgeworlder, and in some ways, she is a typical UF heroine with the usual cynicism and attitude to go along with her way-out appearance. She even has the requisite quirky means of transportation: an ancient Vespa. But Dakota is a fresh character, not a cliché. She is six feet, two inches tall, and her entire body is covered with brightly colored, magical tattoosand those tattoos can move. For example, a butterfly tattoo on Dakota's wrist can flutter its wings and rise into the air before settling back on her armor on someone else's body. The tattoos are also a source of magical power that Dakota can pull from to defend herself. Dakota is estranged from her father, a retired policeman, but she doesn't spend much time worrying about that. In fact, Dakota spends hardly any of her time doing the usual UF angst-ridden interior monologue thing. She is much more action orientedalways moving on to the next item on her jam-packed agenda. 

     Dakota runs her own tattoo shop, the Rogue Unicorn, and she is one of only two certified magical tattoo artists in Atlanta. In this World, mortals are aware of the existence of the supernatural world, but the supernaturals (e.g., vampires, shifters, mages) tend to stay away from the humans. The story begins when the police department asks Dakota to analyze a tattoo on a piece of human skin. Someone is butchering people with magical tattoos, and the cops believe that the serial killer has arrived in Atlanta. Shortly after this upsetting experience, a scary werewolf gives Dakota a symbolic drawing that he wants her to ink on him so that he can control his wolf. Before Dakota accepts that job, she must get permission from the tattoo artist of the local pack, and she must have the flash (the drawing) analyzed by her friend, Jinx (a blind witch) to be sure that there is no magical backlash built into the design. As Dakota goes through the process of getting the wolf’s tattoo approved, she is beaten up by a vampire and shot at by a snipera girl just can't earn an honest living in peace. The third prong of the plot involves Christopher Valentine (aka “The Mysterious Mirabilus”), a magician who travels the country debunking the so-called “magic” of others. This time, Valentine challenges the magic in Dakota’s tattoos. 

     Supporting characters include two law enforcement officers: Andre Rand (an Atlanta cop and an old family friend) and Special Agent Philip Davidson (a Federal officer for the Department of Extraordinary Investigations and a possible love interest for Dakota). Other characters include several vampires, including Dakota’s ex-girlfriend, and a young were-tiger named Cinnamon, who develops a close relationship with Dakota. Throughout the book, Dakota is obviously attracted both to males and females, but, in this book at least, that doesn't go any further than flirting or reminiscing.

     The characters are not the usual stereotypical supernatural creatures, especially the shifters with their unique culture that includes a gruff bear king, an egotistical magical tattoo artist, and the powerful and elegant Lord Buckhead (who posed for this statue in the front yard of the Marriott Hotel at the intersection of Peachtree and Piedmont). The author gives us an excellent sense of the city of Atlanta, from local landmarks to gritty urban landscapes.

     I need to explain the "3" sensuality rating that I gave to this series. There is a scene at the vampire court that portrays three characters in BDSM gear, but that scene takes place after the action, so to speak, so the graphic images only cover the costumes. In addition, Dakota is frank about her attraction to both males and females, but again there is no follow throughjust flirty conversation that includes suggestive, but not too graphic, language.

     I recommend this series and am looking forward to Blood Rock, in which magical graffiti invades Atlantagraffiti that, literally, reaches out and grabs you. According to the author’s web site, “Each book in the series highlights a new form of magic based on alternative culture practices like tattooing, graffiti or fire spinning, and each highlights a new supernatural creature like werewolves, vampires and dragons.” A YA spin off is planned, featuring Cinnamon.

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