I was only half a chapter into Skin when I started looking for signs of a sequel. I checked the media release. I checked the author notes. Unfortunately, there was no mention of more books to follow so I read this book much slower than I usually would. I wanted to savour.
Skin is my favourite kind of historical storytelling - a well-researched ancient history backdrop woven into skillful fantasy story-telling that mirrors the myth and magic beliefs of the period.
The time is 28 AD. The place is Southwest Britain. It’s a pivotal moment in history, when the Britons are to meet the Romans in battle for second time. There’s no spoiler here. History has already told us they didn’t win. This book is about the events in Ailia’s tribelands directly preceding the Roman invasion.
Ailia is a young woman of ‘no skin’ in a tribe where skin is everything. It’s identity, the right to learn and the right to marry. It’s freedom, choice and spiritual inclusion. Only those with skin can participate in the tribal ceremonies that celebrate the Mothers, the guardians of the earth.
Deer. Salmon. Stone. Beetle. The North wind. Skin was our greeting, our mother, our ancestors, our land. Nothing existed outside its reach.
Beyond skin there was only darkness. Only chaos.
Ailia has a good life, given the times and her lack of skin. Abandoned as a baby at Cookwoman’s door, the old woman took her in and treated Ailia as if she was her daughter. Ailia is the favourite of the Tribe Queen who allows Aila to help her bathe and dress. She even draws the attention of an elite young warrior.
But Ailia is destined to be more than a maid in Cookwoman’s kitchen and a warrior’s mistress. Being denied learning can’t smother her desire for knowledge. When she meets the mysterious Taliesen and falls in love, she begins an illicit journey. The Mothers have a plan for Ailia. Britain needs its Kendra and Ailia might be the chosen one.
Every obstacle is placed in her way because without skin, she is unworthy. Even Ailia doubts her calling.
This is a novel about identity and belonging as Ailia struggles to find out who she is. She desperately needs to know her skin so she can be part of the tribe and be found worthy by the Mothers. But skin is more than a name and the Mothers already know this. Skin is something far bigger than humanity.
What I love most about this novel is it is tangible. The world is realistic and the fantasy rings true. I felt like I was walking the grass of Car Cad and the Mothers didn’t mind at all.
PS Dear Ilka, please write a sequel. Or a prequel. Or another book set in Iron Age Britain.
Book Club Notes can be found here. This book would make an excellent Book Club choice.
Reviewed by Sandy Fussell
Author: Ilka Tampke
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publication Date: $19.99 RRP
Type: Adult fiction