Frost Moon, Book One: The SkinDancer series, by Anthony Francis (Bell Bridge Books, 2010)

Aug 13, 2020 | Reviews

Reviewed by Lara Zielinsky

Dakota Frost is the Southeast’s most famous magical
tattoo artist. Also a Skin Dancer, she can make the tattoos
on her body writhe and even do magical battle. When
old friends of her father’s on the Atlanta P.D. and federal
investigators from the Department of Extraordinary
Investigations ask her to help them track down a serial
killer who cuts tattoos off his victims, she plunges into
dangerous intrigues among Atlanta’s Edgeworld citizens:
shapeshifters, vampires, witches, and others.

De rigueur for this genre of paranormal stories, who
and what is in Edgeworld is generally known to the
primary world. And largely the two try not to interfere
with one another.

Dakota moves easily and familiarly in both worlds, knowing and known to the power structures of both. In an almost obvious parallel,
she identifies as bisexual, easily shifting between her attractions to
men and women. And in another idealism, both her past and present
love interests have no problems with it either. But this novel is not about
her sexuality.

Dakota’s real uniqueness lies in her magical art of tattooing. This sets her up as an instant rival and enemy to some, and an instant commisserant, ally, and friend with others. When the leader of Edgeworld, Lord Buckhead – a shapeshifting stag – summons Dakota to test her abilities because she’s been asked to ink a werewolf before the next full moon, the challenge is met with all the skin-tingling detail one could imagine, tattoos that move and even battle each other, transferring from one person to another, skin rippling. The magic escalates.

A magician also challenges Dakota, but where the contest with Lord Buckhead is filled with powerful descriptions of uplifting magic, the duel with the magician is the complete opposite with its dark malevolent presentation.

The author clearly has captured a very real Atlanta – I was familiar with very nearly every landmark and street mentioned in the story – and equally vividly draws Edgeworld. The depth of descriptions of setting are equally matched by the descriptions of the violence and the tattooing preparation and process. The violent descriptions are never given short shrift, including a near-rape attack Dakota suffers from a slighted vampire.

Amid the very real dangers, Dakota also forms very real, and nuanced, relationships. One of the most touching is with a werecat, who cannot transform into human form. One of the most “I know you as well as
you know me” relationships is with the blind witch. While Dakota is the most fully fleshed, the author gives enough of the other characters for the reader to gather information about motivations, both those intrinsic to
the main plot, and those that are simply personal goals, and give these supporting characters both emotional and physical roundness.

While it is clear one or two of the subplots for these secondary supporters are convenient to chasten or hasten the central plot, each is presented with enough detail and forethought to make the reader forgive the occasionally
obvious turns.

Where this novel excels most thoroughly, though, is the immersion in detail. Balancing gritty physical violence and surreal magic battles can be troublesome. First-time authors, particularly, can tilt more toward one
kind of scene or the other. In this tale, Anthony Francis find the balance and keeps the energy taut and believable. Frost Moon will fully immerse the reader in its depth.

Lara Zielinsky is a bisexual author and editor, and hosts the “Readings in Lesbian & Bisexual Women’s Fiction” radio show, http://blogtalkradio.com/lara-zielinsky.

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