I am hugely indebted to http://www.goodreads.com for my copy of ‘Skin’ by Ilka Tampke. It is published by Hodder and Stoughton on August 6th 2015.
In AD 28 Ailia is left as a foundling on the doorstep of the Tribequeen’s kitchen. Taken in by Cookmother, Ailia can never truly be part of society because she does not know the skin to which she belongs. It is skin that holds this ancient world together. As she grows up, the Roman Empire threatens her people more and more until Ailia gradually learns her destiny.
I don’t particularly like books with an ancient history setting. Nor do I usually like books with a fantasy or mystical element. So why then, given that it has both elements, did I think Ilka Tampke’s novel ‘Skin’ was amazing?
The writing in ‘Skin’ is enthralling. It mesmerises the reader with a hypnotic rhythm to the narrative so that the songs, events and rituals become completely believable, adding layer upon layer to the textures of the story. Descriptions seemed to tingle on my skin as I read and I was drawn into the narrative in the same way Ailia is drawn into the worlds she encounters. I wanted to quote an example, but not a word is wasted and any quotation would spoil the plot and the enjoyment of other readers. It is as if the novel is a natural part of the traditions it describes.
I loved the tenets that began each chapter, hinting what might happen. The plot is also so skilfully constructed that, without giving anything away, ‘Skin’ did not end as I anticipated. I also found it both heartbreaking and uplifting.
The characters, particularly of Ailia, Cookmother and Fraid are perfectly drawn. This is a novel with strong, determined women at its centre regardless of their place in society. I think it is the quality of dialogue which helps to create the naturalness of the characters. Speech feels absolutely right for the setting and the era.
Themes in ‘Skin’ would have been relevant to the well researched time in which it is set, but still have total resonance today. Love, deception, hate, revenge, the need to belong, family and learning make ‘Skin’ such a captivating read.
I loved ‘Skin’ by Ilka Tamke. I think it would be perfect reading for anyone who has ever questioned their own position in the world, for all young women and for everyone who simply enjoys a brilliantly written story.