Butterfly Skin by Sergey Kuznetsov tells the story of Ksenia, a 23 year old journalist working for a news website in Russia. She is younger than her fellow journalists but she is much more hardworking and ambitious, which is how she climbed the ladder in the industry so quickly. At work, Ksenia is frank, focused and professional. She’s a boss babe. Her personal life, in contrast, is a constant struggle to find the perfect dom to her sub. She desires the taboo and kinky and is troubled when it comes to finding the right partner.
When a serial killer starts terrorizing Moscow by abducting, raping, torturing and mutilating young girls, Ksenia takes notice. She starts up a new website dedicated to the Moscow Psycho where the public can come with information and questions and where the police and investigators can come with updates. The site is massively successful, but Ksenia starts to become obsessed with the killings.
We get to see how Ksenia ponder at what her obsession with these killings might mean as she starts an online relationship with a man. She quickly falls for this man without ever realizing that this man might not be exactly who he says he is.
Okay, before I start with my feelings about this book, I think it is important to talk about how I personally review books. I start every book at 3 stars in my mind, and then adjust my rating as the story progresses. I also try to be fair to the books genre. I would not judge a romance novel on the same basis that I would judge a splatterpunk novella. I usually try to write my reviews right away so that the book is fresh in my mind and I spare no details. But I had to sleep on this book for about a week before I really knew how I felt about it.
I realize now, that the reason it took me so long to figure out my feelings for this book was that I really appreciated what the author was trying to do here, but hated the way they actually did it. If this book were slimmed down and streamlined, I truly believe that this could be a terrifyingly beautiful story. There is too much everything and everyone in this book, and I’ll explain that here in a few, but just know that this book is almost 400 pages and it could have easily been less than 200.
First, the book is told in second person, which makes it confusing when the author is constantly switching from the story of Ksenia to the story of the killer. The killer’s mind has some beautiful and even poetic writing and I loved the style of these parts. If I had read these segments as part of another book, maybe the journal of a serial killer, my gut would have been in knots in a really great way.
“It is good to kill in winter. Especially if it has snowed overnight, and the ground is covered with a delicate blanket of white. You put the bound naked body on it. The blood from the wounds flows more freely in the cold frosty air, and the warmth of life departs with it.”
But the parts following Ksenia are almost boring. I don’t know if that is because it was translated and things were just lost, or if it was meant to be that way. If it was meant to show off how her professional life was all work and no play. Not only does it follow Ksenia, it also follows around ALL OF HER FRIENDS, for way too long. I’m all for character development and getting background information on the people I am reading about, but this book took way too much time telling me the life story of every secondary character and what their apartments looks like.
Second, there is a ton of repetition. And there are parts in the book where it works, and there are parts where it is just weird and confusing. There is a part that repeats the sentence “It is easy to be unfaithful to your wife.” It starts every paragraph with that same sentence. For. Two. Pages. It seemed like a stylistic choice that just turned out dull and lifeless rather than creative and unique.
Third is the gore. If you have read any of my previous reviews or talked to me on Instagram, you know that I am pretty immune to reading about gore and I have very high standards for how authors choose to add gore and violence in their writing. I don't know if I am immune to it because of how much I’ve read or if there is a big black hole where my heart is supposed to be, but reading gore and violence really doesn’t affect me or make me queasy. This book had some violent scenes of mutilation and violence that were done really well and almost sounded pretty. But there were some scenes that were clearly only added for shock value, which made the gory scenes that WERE done well only seem cheap and sad.
Okay, but I am still giving this book 3 stars. Well, I’m rounding up from 2.75 stars because I like my stars nice and even. I know that it sounds like I hated it, but let me get to the stuff that I really liked in this book. I loved the dark poems of the killer. If I had read them in a separate book of horror poetry, I would have bought every different edition with beautiful covers and told all my horror loving friends about them.
“They say love is when you understand each other
But in reality
Explaining yourself without words is very easy
A scalpel, a cigarette lighter, fish hooks and boiling water
Are more eloquent than all the poetry in the world
When the subject is pain
And at the bottom I have nothing else to talk about
I’d like to find a person
I could talk to in words
I dream of a girl who would listen to me
Nod and weep and repeat”
I know it makes me sound weird and maybe even like I need a good therapist, but every scene where we hear the killers thoughts and inner workings were beautiful. When we hear why he kills and how he chooses a victim. Those parts are disturbing and gross. I didn’t pick up a book that was described to me as, “Russia’s answer to The Silence of the Lambs” for serene scenes of people reading in the grassy hillside. I picked it up to be scared and traumatized. The only parts that were unnerving and did what I thought they should, were these parts where the killer is front and center.
I will only recommend this book with this disclaimer: This is a slow burn that will take you a long time to appreciate, but only if you are fine with tons of shock value gore and lots of side quests into the lives of people that don’t matter. This book has some well written, interesting and terrifying parts and some really just terrible and terribly written parts. It’s a decent read, if not tiring at times. It should have been 150 pages of unnerving and poetic writing about a serial killer and a woman obsessed with his work, but it ended up being almost 400 pages of just an okay novel with a pretty cover.