Sunday, January 20, 2008

Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey

I recommend this book for: grade 8 and up

I read a few great reviews of this one on the blogs I read regularly, and let me add my voice to the raving - this is a fantastic, engrossing dark fantasy. It tells the story of magic in a world at two different times. Sadima, a girl whose family hates wizards because a charlatan allowed her mother to die, has to hide her ability to communicate with animals until a young wizard named Franklin invites her to come with him and help restore real magic to the world. He and an intense young nobleman named Somiss have plans to learn all they can and open a school where they will teach magic and end the hold fake magicians and fortunetellers hold on the people. Her life with them in the city, their struggles to find the old songs that trigger the magic without getting caught by the authorities, and her growing relationship with Franklin and fear of Somiss make up half of the narrative.

The other half takes place many years later, as Hahp, the second son of a rich merchant, is sent away to learn to be a wizard. He has always suffered his father's cruelty, but he is completely unprepared for conditions at the school. The boys are forced to run around barefoot in the freezing stone passages, liable to be awoken at any time for a lesson, and they are not permitted to help one another. They are not allowed to eat unless they can make food for themselves, and those who cannot make the magic work starve to death. Franklin and Somiss are among the wizards who instruct them.

The chapters alternate between Sadima's time and Hahp's, and it's thrilling to make the connections between the two times. The questions the format raises are also intriguing: what happened to change Somiss and Franklin's vision? Why has Franklin gone along with it all these years? What has happened to Sadima? I think it also should have a lot of appeal for boys and girls, as there is one narrator of each gender - when recommending this one, though, be aware that there is some mention in Hahp's chapters of the male genitalia and his compromises on his wizard's vow of chastity, although it isn't at all explicit. I'm very excited to see what happens in the next two installments of this trilogy.

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