Skin by Ilka Tampke


6 August 2015 by Hodder and Stoughton, 368 pages, £6.99

Quick Description: historical fiction mixed with fantasy and romance.

Steam?: moderate, but watch out for fish that’s all I can say…

Plot: 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.

It is AD 43. For the Caer Cad, ‘skin’ name determines lineage and identity. Ailia does not have skin; despite this, she is a remarkable young woman, intelligent, curious and brave. As a dark threat grows on the horizon – the aggressive expansion of the Roman Empire – Ailia must embark on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people, and their pagan way of life, from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced… and it is this unskinned girl who will come to hold the fate of her people in her hands.

Following on from the Skin book party two weeks ago I couldn’t really wait any longer and bumped this up my reading list. If there ever was a book that was an eye-opener it would be this- such beautiful prose woven about a time I had never thought of and never will if Tampke hadn’t introduced it to me. Her meticulous research and dedication to detail transports us instantly into the setting. I was able to ease myself into the language, the rural homeland, the food- but the culture! A few pages in and I was like woah- that is something. So if you are squeamish, this novel may not be for you. It is full-blooded and dives head first into the customs and rituals of Caer Cad; some empowering, some brutal. Now I am so fascinated with ancestry, British history, just in time for the British Museum’s exhibition on Celts.

Many of you, like me, would have read the plot and was totally on board. There are so many YA post-apocalyptics that we sometimes forget the real deal. The concept of ‘Skin’ reminded me of a more extreme version of Zodiacs and Chinese star signs. The people of Caer Cad believe that you are born physically and spiritually. The animal identity of your soul determines your social standing and your fate. But I wouldn’t say that this way of living is dystopic. The Celts pay great respect to nature; the knowledge that is embedded in the earth. I was really interested in their reverence towards spirituality and religious figures (Druids) who still remain a mystery today. Tampke blends in fantasy and magic into Ailia’s story which both confuse and fascinate the reader.

Ailia is a strong protagonist; young, intelligent, kind and bold. She represents the idea that, even since AD 43, things have hardly changed today. She desires to belong, to love and be loved, and to know beyond the confines of her homeland. Having lived with the scar of being identity-less and invisible, strange things starts to happen as she reaches marriageable age: she meets a new comer who seems to have a vengeance for her but knows about her past, she falls into a love triangle (love it!) with two different men- a warrior who is seduced by Rome, and a mysterious and guarded figure she meets in a forbidden forest. As she starts discovering the secrets of her past and her own hidden abilities, the town prepares itself for an invasion that threatens to wipe off not only their people but their entire connection with the spirits. Exciting stuff!!

Connect: @ilkatampke


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