Book review: Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

I often think its harder to review things you love. It easier to point out the flaws and to revel in the snark; but when you love something it is so difficult to analyse why? So if your expecting a coherent critical analysis (and really shouldn’t you know better by now?) this is not the place to find it.
I loved Skin Hunger. It is the first in a series called the Resurrection of Magic trilogy. My heart always sinks when I pick up a book that is the part of a series. Partly because I have an instant gratification problem and I need to have my ending (my catharsis) now! Partly because, in fantasy in particular, the series novel is often misused as a form to drag out plots and characters that have well exceeded their shelf life. (And I say this being midway through my own ya uf trilogy – so I know the pitfalls better then most). But this was pitch perfect.
The story is told from the dual pov of Sadima and Haph, who stories despite being seperated by years, are deeply entwined. Sadima is gifted with the ability to speak to animals, in a world in which magic and wizards had been discredited. She forms an uneasy triangle between the cruelly ambitious Somiss, who is determined to resurrect magic, and Franklin who Sadima has fallen desperately in love with. Decades later Haph the son of a rich merchant is enrolled at a school for wizards which is more evocative of a prisoner of war camp then Hogwarths. Unable to leave, the apprentice wizards are forbidden to help each other and starved unless they can conjure food.
In particular the scenes of Haph inside the stone city and the descriptions of the physical depredations he and the other apprentice wizards undergo are darkly fascinating. The emotionally wrought relationships between Somiss and Franklin, Franklin and Sadima and Sadima and Somiss showcase Somiss’s growing sadism and the lengths he will go to restore magic and Franklin’s inability to part himself from Somiss. The beauty of the language contrasts with the savagery of the subject:

‘The magician’s face softened abruptly and she reached to pat Micah’s cheek, then grasped his hand, hard. She leaned close. “Make one more sound and I won’t come. Do you hear?” He nodded, staring at her hand on his. He would remember, all of his life, her yellowed fingernails, rimmed in black—little half moons of filth.’

The structure of the Skin Hunger ramps up the tension as you desperately try and decipher how Sadima’s story lead into the creation of the academy of magic and Haph’s training as an apprentice wizard. Like a before and after picture you have to fill in the gaps between and draw parallels between the two stories. And you are powerless to change these events because they have, in essence, already happened. I cannot wait for the second in the series.

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