Micah's breath scraped in and out of his lungs; his feet were clodded with road-mud.
–Kathleen Duey - Skin Hunger - c.2007
A resurrection of magic ; book 1
Sadima’s mother died in her birthing. The magician paid to help did no such thing; all she did was take the money and leave, pretending everything was fine. Ever since Micah and his father have, understandably enough, distrusted magic and magicians. They are fakers and con artists. But Sadima isn’t so sure. She can understand the emotions of animals, she can communicate in some way with them, surely that means there is some magic left in the world?
Micah, Sadima’s older brother, is the reader’s first introduction to the world of Skin Hunger. But it is Sadima whose point of view we experience the city of Limori. She leaves home to try and find her place in the world, and in doing so she begins to learn the history of the place. How the kings outlawed magicians because when there were magicians there were no kings and vice vearsa.
And in alternating chapters we meet Hahp, the son of a very wealthy merchant who has been sent off to train to become a magician. Or not. Only one boy will make it, the others will become “a part” of the school.
Hahp is our first persona narrator, and he tells us a lot about the world which has magicians and where magic can be bought just like anything else. He does not have a good relationship with his father, in many ways magic school ((not at all like Hogwarts here)) is his father’s way of getting rid of him. To all intents and purposes Hahp has been abandoned.
The world where Hahp lives and the one where Sadima lives are very different place. But they share some things, I won’t mention them here on account of spoilers, but over the course of the book we learn that the two are actually in the same place, but in different times in Limori’s history.
I’m not sure what I expected when I first picked this book up. I can’t even remember why I chose it. I think someone somewhere mentioned it a good while ago.
The title Skin Hunger is faintly off putting to me. It sounds like it should be some sort of sex story, 50 shades of hunger possibly. And it isn’t. Instead it is more a coming of age story for Sadima as she learns who she is and who she has ended up helping. Hahp too is learning a lot about himself. Starvation and isolation do not bring out the best in people but they do test a person. A horrible way of testing people, especially when it is done on purpose, but a test nevertheless.
I’ve rated this book a 7. My ratings are based on my enjoyment rather than any sort of objective scale, so they tend to vary. And they aren’t unalterable and fixed. If I reread something and change my mind then I change my review. But also a 7 can be a good mark and an okay mark. I mean 7 means I enjoyed a book, but and 8 that i really enjoyed it. But sometimes a 7 can mean that I loved parts but was otherwise meh. Here, it means I enjoyed a lot of the book, but there was too much set-up with Hahp’s storyline. I know why; he doesn’t know whats going on, so the reader can’t either, not when Hahp is our only guide to the world. But there a bit too much sitting around in the dark suffering for me to enjoy his part of the book. And his horrible treatment seems to be horrible simply for the sake of it.
Sadima’s life isn’t all kittens and unicorns, but at least she has some amount of agency. She doesn’t always use it, but she is an innocent farm girl out in the big bad world for the first time. She doesn’t really know what’s going on, to start with, but unlike with Hahp she begins to at least try and puzzle things out. She acts. Hahp is unable to.
But I didn’t like the romance that started to develop. It felt quite forced in my reading. I never really understood why she liked whatshisname, Franklin, because he too was lacking agency and the ability to act on his own behalf.
But it is certainly a book that grips the more you read. I really want to read what happens next. Cliff-hanger endings *sigh*. But at the same time I don’t want to rush into book 2 because while book 3 has been written, according to Duey’s blog it is in “processing” at the moment, ie not published yet.