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Fiction Review: Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

by Rich Horton

Copyright 2008 by New Epoch Press. All rights reserved.

Skin Hunger
By Kathleen Duey
Atheneum (357 pages, hardcover, July 2007, $17.95)

Skin Hunger is the first book in a new Young Adult fantasy series by Kathleen Duey, collectively called A Resurrection of Magic. Like a number of “first in the series” books, nothing is really resolved. Indeed, the ending is quite abrupt, and the book can’t be said to stand alone. But it is very fine work, explicitly demythologizing fantasy clichés, with characters who we want to like but who are not necessarily unambiguously good. I was involved throughout, and I eagerly await succeeding books.

It is told on two separate tracks, apparently decades apart. (The question of how apart the events on the two tracks are in time, and exactly how they will be joined, is not answered here — it’s certainly a key mystery to be revealed.)

The book opens with a young boy fetching a witch to help his mother through childbirth. But the mother dies anyway, and the witch absconds with the family’s valuables. The boy and his father thus have reasons to abundantly hate witches, and we eventually gather that sorcery is not particularly respected in this land in any case. So when his sister, the baby his mother died bearing, seems to have unusual powers with animals, the boy refuses to believe her. The girl, Sadima, grows up loved but lonely, her isolation enforced by her grieving father’s withdrawal from society. In time she decides to leave for the city, especially after meeting a man named Franklin who takes her powers seriously and asks her to meet him if she can come to the city. When she arrives there, she does meet Franklin, and Franklin’s friend Somiss, a scion of a family related to the King, who also is a runaway gathering the long outlawed knowledge of sorcery. Franklin and Sadima try to help him by copying old songs and books, and by keeping house for him, despite his selfishness and secretiveness.

The other narrative track is told by a boy named Hahp, younger son of a wealthy man in the same city Sadima comes to. But evidently Hahp lives some time later, for he is sent by his father (whom he hates) to a mysterious school of wizardry. This school is apparently run by Somiss, with Franklin a leading teacher. The small group of mostly aristocratic boys endures exceedingly harsh treatment to develop their powers, among those treatments starvation and a deliberate strategy of pitting each boy against his fellows. Over the course of something like a year Hahp finds, to his surprise, that he does have some magical ability, but he also learns to hate the wizards, and he slowly begins to resist their rules and to try to forge alliances with his fellow boys.

All this — the whole book, really — is mainly scene-setting. Just at the end some things happen that seem to promise great changes on both narrative threads. But we must wait for future books to learn what happens, and to learn how Franklin and Somiss advanced from their position hiding out with Sadima to being leaders of an apparently approved magical school. And what of Sadima herself, unquestionably the most likable and virtuous character in the book, but ominously absent from Hahp’s thread? All these questions are intriguing indeed — good reason to anticipate Book Two of A Resurrection of Magic.


Rich Horton’s feature articles exploring the rich history of modern fantasy and science fiction appear in every issue of Black Gate.
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