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Skin Taker is the eighth book in the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series by Michelle Paver.


A boy. A wolf. The legend lives on. In the Dark Time of midwinter, something is coming that will test the Clans as never before. Book eight of Michelle Paver's bestselling Wolf Brother series continues the dazzling adventure of Torak, Wolf and Renn – a story full of myth, menace, natural magic and exhilarating entertainment. 
In the Dark Time of midwinter, disaster strikes the Forest. Chaos rules. Bears woken from their dens prowl the shadowy valleys. Desperate clans battle for survival. Only demons thrive. 
With their world in turmoil, Torak, Renn and Wolf are tested as never before. And as a new evil haunts the devastated land, Torak must risk his sanity, his life and even his souls to save everything he loves... 


In Midwinter, the Clans are preparing for the Sunwake, a ceremony to celebrate the return of the Sun after its winter sleep when disaster strikes the Forest. A phenomena the Clans call the Thunderstar hits, devastating the Forest. Several Clans are wiped out by the devastation, including the Lynx and Boar Clans, and dozens of hunters from other Clans are lost. Animals hibernating for the winter, such as bears, are awoken by the Thunderstar's fall, and the destuction of the trees has freed demons from the Otherworld. Torak and Renn, living separately from the Raven Clan with their pack made up of Wolf, Darkfur, Pebble and two small cubs, are not spared the destruction; the cubs are killed and Pebble is believed dead for a time until he is found alive by Dark, the Raven Clan Mage. The ghosts of the dead remain, haunting the land instead of moving on. And Torak, who has spirit walked inside the trees and felt the soul of the Forest, is badly affected by the disaster.
Survivors converge on the remains of the camp where several Clans had been gathering for the Sunwake ceremony, unanimously choosing Raven Leader Fin-Kedinn to lead the survivors and he immediately calls a Clanmeet to discuss the crisis facing them all. People from Clans as far as the Mountains gather, including survivors from the Swan Clan, Dark's birth father among them. Dark is displeased at meeting his father, the one who had abandonned him to his death in the mountains, again. While the Clans assess the extent of the disaster which has wiped out much of the western Open Forest and a large part of the Deep Forest in the east, the sole remaining Mage who had once been a Soul Eater, the mad wanderer known as the Walker, comes to camp, revealing in one of his moments of sanity and wisdom that the disaster is far worse than anyone yet imagines. His prediction is shown to be true when he reveals that the First Tree, the winter lights of the sky where the Clans' dead go on the death journey, has been destroyed by the Thunderstar. The disappearance of the First Tree is a bitter blow to the surviving Clans, but the Walker reveals that there is a way to bring it back, a ritual from the Old Time when the first demon was defeated by the World Spirit, assisted by the first men who had shot their arrows into the sky to help it in its battle. The Walker confirms that, should the Clans find four pieces representing each part of the Forest and shoot them into the sky, carried by the cries of the purest souls in the Forest, the First Tree would return. Before he leaves, the Walker warns Renn that Torak has been more badly affected than she realizes, as the part of the Forest within him was broken with the fall of the Thunderstar.
Torak, Renn and Wolf leave the Clans for the Deep Forest, convinced they will find a piece of the Forest in the Scared Grove, where the oldest tree stands, while Dark finds two pieces at camp. One is found by appealing the the Hidden People of the caves, who hand him a crystal and tell him he will find another "in the jaws of the wolf". The second is found having been unmarked by Pebble chewing on it. At the same, Dark discovers his father, who he has lingering animosity towards but who had been trying to male amends, and the other Swan Clan hunters stealing food. He learns that there is a new Leader among the Deep Forest Clans, a powerful figure who protected them from the Thunderstar and convinced them to renounce the old ways of the Clans. Suspecting who this new Leader might be, Dark leaves camp with Fin-Kedinn's blessing to find Torak and Renn.
In the Deep Forest, Torak and Renn come across the Red Deer Clan, who have become a shell of their former self and believe the Thunderstar was a sign of the World Spirit's displeasure with them. Those Clans whose lands had been spared by the Thunderstar had abandonned their ways and, calling themselves the 'Chosen Ones', followed a new leader who defended them against a new threat which had emerged in the wake of the disaster: Skin Takers. The Skin Takers, announcing their arrival with piercing cries, steal the death marks from the dead, and eat the brains of the dead. As they hear tales of the Skin Takers, Renn shares with Torak her suspicion that Naiginn had survived their confrontation in the Far North and is responsible for the turmoil in the Deep Forest. Soon, both are separately captured by the Chosen Ones and, while Renn manages to escape with help from a sceptic hunter, Torak is brought to the Leader, who reveals himself to be Naiginn. The demon reveals that, in addition to surviving their battle on the Edge of the World, he had discovered his mother had lied to him about his curse: he could free his demon nature from his mortal body by consuming souls, specifically the brains of still living beings. Naiginn had created the myth of the Skin Takers, faking their cries and convincing the Chosen Ones and the subdued Deep Forest Clans that only he could defeat them. Torak manages to escape from Naiginn when Renn and Wolf send the sacred horses towards him and, much as he had during the events of Oathbreaker, he rides one away. Reaching the Sacred Grove, Torak's spirit breaks when he discovers that the oldest trees in the Forest, the Great Yew and the Great Oak, have been destroyed by the Thunderstar.
Eager to feel it again, Torak spirit walks into the trees and finds the Forest stone needed for the rite while Renn and Dark, with help from the Hidden People, find the last one: a piece of the Thunderstar itself. Toral regains his body long enough to give Renn and Dark his piece before the Forest pulls him back in and, only by spirit walking into a bear is he capable of escaping the vastness of the trees' consciousness. Dark and Renn, as Mages, perform the rite but are attacked by Naiginn just as they are about to fire their arrows into the sky. Torak, in the bear, attacks Naiginn, allowing Renn and Dark to complete the rite. As the arrows shoot into the sky, Wolf leads the other packs of the Forest in a howl, carrying the arrows to the sky. Naiginn flees, his lies exposed to the rest of the Deep Forest who abandon the new way he had preached to control them and return to their Clans. Returning to the Open Forest, Torak, Renn and Dark rejoin the Ravens and the other Clans as Fin-Kedinn has convinced them to clear the rubble from the Thunderstar's disaster and free the trapped Windriver, which the Clans relied on for salmon in the spring. After days of difficult work during which time other Clans join them, the First Tree finally reappears, restoring hope to the Forest.


Notes and references[]

  1. Revealed on Amazon
The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series
Wolf Brother (2004)Spirit Walker (2005)Soul Eater (2006)Outcast (2007)Oath Breaker (2008)Ghost Hunter (2009)Viper's Daughter (2020)Skin Taker (2021)Wolfbane (2022)
Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Omnibus (volume 1) (2008)Chronicles of Ancient Darkness Omnibus (volume 2) (2011)