George R. R. Martin has many aborted series. “A Song of Ice and Fire” is fantastic, and wildly successful, but has currently been stalled at some years as the sixth instalment has taken Martin longer and longer to finish. The “Tales of Dunk and Egg” sister series, originally planned and vaguely plotted out for around a dozen stories, has been stalled for some six years as of my writing of this review, and the fourth story does not seem particularly close. “The Thousand Worlds” never relied heavily on continuity, but its potentially great novel of “Avalon” was abandoned by Martin when he was struck by inspiration for “A Game of Thrones”. There were to be more Tuf Haviland stories, a complete novel sequel and potentially a shared universe for other writers to play in, but that never happened. “Doorways” was to be Martin’s proper ongoing television series, but it was never picked up. “The Skin Trade” is not the only novella of Martin’s to be conceptualised initially as the first entry in an ongoing series that never ended up happening, but emblematic of a larger trend in his career.
As for the actual novella itself – it’s not bad. Fine horror craftsmanship from Martin. There are no glaring flaws, but there’s not much magic at play here. There’s nothing as iconic or memorable as other horror short stories of his like “The Pear-Shaped Man” or “The Monkey Treatment”. The worldbuilding is interesting enough, for urban fantasy, but not likely to stick with me. The werewolf sequences are interesting to read as a precursor to the wolf-POV sequences in “A Song of Ice and Fire”, but when you start enjoying a story purely for how it hints to the later greatness a writer would achieve, I think that indicates one is not enjoying the specific story they’re reading for its own merits.
This isn’t a bad story, but it’s a wholly unremarkable one, and without the planned series to follow it, there’s not much meat worth chewing on the bone here. I give it two silver bullets, and a full moon.