Review Blog

Mar 25 2015

Skin by Ilka Tampke

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Text, 2015. ISBN 9781922182333
Recommended for 14+. Ilka Tampke's first novel is set in Celtic Britain from 28 AD to 44 AD. The novel is part historical and part fantasy, and deals with the lives of the Celtic tribes living in the east of Britain before and during the Roman invasion. The main character, named Ailia, is a foundling and so does not have a family group or 'skin', as it is called. Even though loved by her adoptive mother and possessing many abilities, she cannot fully participate in the rituals and teachings of the tribe. She is not educated and will only ever be a servant. However, at the time of coming of age, when the mid-summer fire ritual is held, she is chosen by the ambitious warrior Ruther, and after love-making, begins to learn of the Roman cities and way of life that he, as an emissary to Rome, has experienced. Far from being impressed, as he is, she is horrified at the possibility of their sacrilegious way of life coming to her country. Her determination that resistance is essential is reinforced when it becomes clear that she has been chosen by the Mothers, the powers who control life, to be trained in their knowledge despite her having no skin. She is given a sword that becomes a pathway to the 'other world' of the Mothers and is a symbol of power. Her clanspeople recognize her as the one they have been waiting for, the Kendra, the most powerful Druid who they believe will have the power to save them from the fast approaching Roman armies. Ailia directs them to fight, despite her misgivings and despite Ruther having brokered a deal which, he hopes, will save many lives. The Romans attack, and Ailia sees that the consequence of her order is the destruction of her village. Too late, she learns of her skin, but reinforced by this knowledge and by her experience she flees to join other resisting clans. The novel is well researched; the details of everyday life and rituals are vividly and seemingly realistically described, and are convincingly brutal at times. The narrative moves quickly, despite some confusing supernatural strands involving the Mothers and a lover stranded in the 'other world'. The conclusion is historically accurate, as the Romans did of course triumph in this part of Britain. The novel is recommended for young adult readers.
Jenny Hamilton

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