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Friday, February 27, 2015

'Skin' by Ilka Tampke

Received from the Publisher

From the BLURB:

Southwest Britain, AD 43.

For the people of Caer Cad, ‘skin’ is their totem, their greeting, their ancestors, their land.

Ailia does not have skin. Abandoned at birth, she serves the Tribequeen of her township. Ailia is not permitted to marry, excluded from tribal ceremonies and, most devastatingly, forbidden to learn. But the Mothers, the tribal ancestors, have chosen her for another path.

Lured by the beautiful and enigmatic Taliesin, Ailia embarks on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced.

Set in Iron-Age Britain on the cusp of Roman invasion, Skin is a thrilling, full-blooded, mesmerising novel about the collision of two worlds, and a young woman torn between two men.

Skin’ is the debut historical fiction/fantasy novel from Australian author (and member of my wonderful writer’s group) Ilka Tampke.

The book is set in AD 43 (Iron Age Britain), and our narrator is ‘skinless’ Ailia of Cad who was found by Cookmother on the doorstep of the Tribequeen. She is raised in the kitchens, and taught the art of healing by Cookmother, but still Ailia longs for what she cannot have and will not be without skin – a journeywoman.  

Born to the skinless, or lost to their families before naming, the unskinned were not claimed by a totem. Their souls were fragmented, unbound to the Singing. If they remained little seen, they were not despised, not usually harmed. The townspeople gave them enough grain, cloaks and work, if they would do it. But they could not live within the town walls because no one could be sure of who they were. 
I quickened my pace and Neha trotted beside me. 
Skin was gifted from mother to child by a song. 
I had no mother. I had no skin. 
But I had been spared. Just.

When she is of age at Beltane, Ailia meets the warrior Ruther who affectionately calls her ‘Daughter of the Doorstep’ and may wish to make her kin. She also meets the mysterious Taliesin one day by the river, not sure if he is bard or magician. And when Ailia starts exhibiting powers the skinless should not possess, her life seems destined for greater things ... 

This book gripped me from the first, with a haunting scene of spirit and sacrifice in the opening pages that left me horrified and intrigued;

The journeymen and women started to sing down the songs of our tribe in powerful harmony. I could sense the expectation in the gathering, the pulsing of hearts and the coursing of blood. This ritual was part of our story, part of our truth, but the terribleness of it was never forgotten.

From there I could barely pull myself away from the book and Ailia’s journey.

Tampke transports readers to an incredible moment in history, to Iron Age Britain when ‘the tendrils of Roman ways had touched Caer Cad’ and Emperor Claudius’s Roman army are preparing to invade. It is a time of druids and tribelands, a reach back into a very real time that Tampke recreates so viscerally with language and these characters.

Isobelle Carmody provides an endorsement quote for the book, which is so fitting because I would recommend ‘Skin’ to anyone who enjoys the ‘Obernewtyn Chronicles’ – for both author’s rich language and world-building, but especially the incredible journeys of their female heroes. While reading I also thought of Margo Lanagan’s short stories and dark fantasy tales, and Melina Marchetta’s ‘Lumatere Chronicles’ fantasy series. Because there is a touch of magic woven throughout ‘Skin’, which works seamlessly with the mystery of the Iron Age – Ailia’s unexpected powers, Taliesin’s mysticism and transformation – and always, the ‘journeypeople’ druids, their religion and sacrificial ways. Indeed, while ‘Skin’ is an adult novel, I found that there’s a lot here young adult readers will love too. There is romance and brutality, but it’s nothing young readers haven’t read before or will be shocked by in the context of history and fantasy.

I loved this book, and our hero Ailia. Tampke carries readers to a most remarkable time of the Iron Age – when druids were revered and the tribal lands of Britain were about to be changed forever, when Skin was everything and magic seemed inevitable. Ilka Tampke's book is already creating buzz in Australia and overseas, and for good reason - we’ve just welcomed a remarkable new voice in Australian literature, and I can’t wait to read what she comes up with next.


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