October 24, 2012 by Heidi
Title: Skin Hunger [Amazon|Goodreads]
Author: Kathleen Duey [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing: Book one in A Ressurection of Magic series.
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: September 30th, 2008 by Atheneum (Originally published January 1st, 2007)
Format: Paperback; 357 pages
Source: Borrowed from Catie
Sadima lives in a world where magic has been banned, leaving poor villagers prey to fakes and charlatans. A “magician” stole her family’s few valuables and left Sadima’s mother to die on the day Sadima was born. But vestiges of magic are hidden in old rhymes and hearth tales and in people like Sadima, who conceals her silent communication with animals for fear of rejection and ridicule. When rumors of her gift reach Somiss, a young nobleman obsessed with restoring magic, he sends Franklin, his lifelong servant, to find her. Sadima’s joy at sharing her secret becomes love for the man she shares it with. But Franklin’s irrevocable bond to the brilliant and dangerous Somiss traps her, too, and she faces a heartbreaking decision.
Centuries later magic has been restored, but it is available only to the wealthy and is strictly controlled by wizards within a sequestered academy of magic. Hahp, the expendable second son of a rich merchant, is forced into the academy and finds himself paired with Gerrard, a peasant boy inexplicably admitted with nine sons of privilege and wealth. Only one of the ten students will graduate — and the first academic requirement is survival.
Sadima’s and Hahp’s worlds are separated by generations, but their lives are connected in surprising and powerful ways in this brilliant first book of Kathleen Duey’s dark, complex, and completely compelling trilogy.
There’s a line between horror novels and those that are dark, but it’s certainly a chalk line that can be blurred fairly easily, a line that Kathleen Duey dances upon in her A Resurrection of Magic series. I may never have picked this one up on my own, but thankfully my friend Catie had just finished reading it herself and offered it to me in the pile of books she’d brought for me to borrow. She handed it to me saying that it was kind of like Harry Potter…if at Hogwarts they tortured all of the kids to get the magic out of them. Well that certainly got my attention.
Harry Potter may have some very dark story elements, but it also has an overabundance of charm and whimsy that makes us brush off comments about “the old punishments” for students as all in good fun. Skin Hunger brings those dark elements to the forefront and makes us fully realize what horror we were brushing off. It was sort of like reading or hearing threats of “tarring and feathering” or “keelhauling” without actually ever thinking about how absolutely messed up those punishments were until you see them occur.
So, as you may have surmised, Skin Hunger will not be a book for everyone. It’s a book with little hope, and much darkness; the kind of book that rubs all sorts of unpleasantness in your face. The kind where the bad guys have won, are winning, will likely continue to win, and you cling to the pages half in hope half in dread until you come to its close. However, if you’re a reader that truly means it when you say you like the dark and slightly disturbing, Kathleen Duey’s A Resurrection of Magic could be your perfect choice.
I love the magic and grit reflected in the cover art of this book, it fills me with the same cold wonder I had throughout reading. In addition, I have to note that Skin Hunger is one of the most incredibly adept titles a book has ever been given. It describes a feeling so few of us can truly understand, one more horrible and sad than I could wish on any person.
We are thrown into two distinct stories in Skin Hunger, one told in third person from Sadima’s perspective, the other in first person from Hahp’s. The characters live hundreds of years apart, and at first seem to have little or nothing to do with one another. I was surprised to find myself equally invested in each of their fates, and eagerly jumping back and forth between the two perspectives. Kathleen Duey embraces the power of duel perspectives and various narrative styles so effortlessly that it is easy to forget that these elements quickly unravel under less expert control.
Sadima has always felt alone in an overly protected childhood where no others share her abilities to communicate wordlessly with animals. She feels that when she finds Franklin, she finally has someone who understands, but it takes Sadima too long to see that Franklin can never be fully hers. Sadima proceeds to fall into a largely frustrating and timid existence, too scared to be happy on her own, and too intimidated to be happy with Franklin. We watch her become increasingly entangled in the lives of the man she loves, and the man he serves, slowly understanding how they are building a past that can create Hahp’s present. Hahp enters a school for wizards feeling initially that it is an escape from the father he despises. Told that only one of their class will graduate, the boys at the school are given no comforts and provided with no food until the time when they will either learn to wield magic, or perish. Hahp’s plight seems more desperate and imminent than Sadima’s. Hers is a situation she chooses not to escape, his is one he cannot, one where each gain in one direction sends forces against him from another.
I am filled with hope for Hahp, and utter dread for Sadima. Hahp’s future is a mystery. Sadima’s future has already occurred. We know something happens to her, but not what, and somehow the unknown past is more calculating and disturbing than the unknown future–it has no chance of changing. If you like happy wrapped up ends, Skin Hunger may frustrate you. For me, it was one of those rare cases where I loved feeling still in the dark at the book’s close. I like that I can’t quite fit the puzzle together yet, that I can’t even guess at what the final picture will be.
Skin Hunger is a disturbingly fascinating read. It examines humanity’s capacity for cruelty and harm in the name of the greater good. It is a story of misguided ambitions and unfathomable bleakness, one that will leave the reader sucked dry of emotion and hungering to feel. It is a story that is long ago and all too near.
I knew he couldn’t possibly keep a promise like that, but I put out my hand, and he gripped it. The touch of flesh on my flesh, his skin on my skin, jolted me into feeling a kind of hunger I hand’t even recognized. How long had it been since I had touched anyone?
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Fair warning: Skin Hunger does not leave off all neatly wrapped, and while the second book in A Resurrection of Magic, Sacred Scars, is available, the third book is still in progress. I probably should have waited to start this series, but I’m too captivated to stop now.
Recommended for: When thinking of other authors who can be described in similar terms, my mind turns only to Margo Lanagan, who is also known for very dark and disturbing YA. This series will likely be as polarizing as Lanagan’s work, but I for one am loving it.
Get a second opinion:
The Readventurer – “What I remember most about it right now is just how dark and original and compelling it all was.”
Word for Teens – “I do want to read the next in the series – my interest is peeked to see what happens!”
The Book Geek – “Not a crowd pleaser but a good book for those readers who are looking for something different.”