Thursday 6 August 2015

Skin by Ilka Tampke

review by Maryom

"Imagine a world where everyone is born with a 'skin' name. Without skin you cannot learn, you are not permitted to marry, and you grow up an outsider amongst your own people.
This is no future dystopia. This is Celtic Britain."

To the tribes-people of Caer Cad, knowing one's lineage and 'skin' is all important - without this how can anyone know where they fit in the world? Found abandoned as a baby Ailia has no way of knowing her 'skin' - normally this should see her banished from the tribe to live outside the fort but through her foster mother, Cookmother to the Tribequeen, she is given a home in the kitchen-hut and raised alongside 'skinned' girls. Without a skin, Ailia cannot fully take part in the religious ritual life of the tribe, but even so she finds herself with special abilities that enable her to talk to the goddess-like Mothers, and walk in their mystical world. With Roman legions heading for Britain, the way of life of the island's tribes-people has never been in so much danger. Could Ailia be the Kendra, the one chosen to save them?

Set in Celtic Britain in the last few years before Roman occupation, Skin is an unusual combination of history, myth and fantasy, the three elements winding round each other like the threads of a Celtic knot-pattern. I expected this to be a book that I'd love - and for most of it I did. It started well, if not excellently, capturing the atmosphere of Ailia's hill-top home, the story-telling unfolding like something from a myth itself...but gradually as plot took over from scene-setting I found my interest waning.
Unfortunately, the more I learned about Ailia, the less I liked her - she disregards the feelings of others, is often quite callous in her treatment of them, and constantly disobeys rules set up for the safety of the Tribe.
Also the mystical side started to grate after a while - I think this would have been easier to accept in a wholly fantasy setting but against the very real historical backdrop of Roman invasion I wasn't comfortable with it.
So, if you'd asked me half way, or maybe even three-quarters, through, I'd have said this was a wonderful book; having reached the end, I'm not sure.

Publisher - Hodder & Stoughton
Genre - adult fiction, historical/fantasy/myth

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