Dreadful Skin

I love books that take a real-life mysterious event and give it a much cooler explanation.  Cherie Priest pulls that off
quite neatly with Dreadful Skin, a novel in three parts starring an Irish nun and a werewolf.  I know, I know, who hasn't seen that pair used in a really good book?

The story opens on the Mary Byrd, a small ship that actually did disappear somewhere on the Tennessee River between Knoxville and Chattanooga in 1870. On board the story's version is a tipsy captain, a former slave, a professional gambler, a secretive nun named Eileen and the cursed man she has tracked across two continents, John.  Who is also known as Jack.  Who, it's deftly noted,  also has a lot of spring in his heels.  Hey, sounds like this guy

I don't want to give away too much about part 1, so I'll just skip along and say that Eileen returns for part 2, Halfway to Holiness and Jack reappears with her in part 3, Our Lady of The Wasteland And The Hallelujah Chorus. The action moves westward to a traveling revival group in Texas, whose leader is possessed by something I'm pretty sure revivalists aren't clamoring for. 

The slightly dusty, historic feel of the story and the struggle between Jack and Eileen reminded me of Stephen King's Dark Tower series.  Instead of "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed", we have "the monster scavenged across the American west and a nun kept showing up."  He wasn't exactly fleeing, though if he'd known just one more thing about Eileen, he might have hauled some serious wolfy ass.  I do wish it was illustrated like The Gunslinger; there were several scenes that would have made great art.

Compared to Priest's other books that I've read thus far, Dreadful Skin is a pretty quick read (a couple hours versus about four).  I did a little digging on the Mary Byrd (no pun intended) but internet findings were slim; it was not a particularly big story. My props to Cherie for choosing something that wasn't major headline fodder.  I did find some information on Tennessee River shipwrecks on this page

Favorite quotes:

"And in this way, too, I was reminded that Heaven watches (...) even the frightened little monsters who work so hard to be good."

"I've heard it said that God made all men, but Samuel Colt made all men equal. We'd see what Mr. Colt could do for a woman."

As always, hit me up with any feedback or recommendations of your own in the Comments section.

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