Friday, December 3

Skin Hunger - Kathleen Duey

When Micah's mother's labour became dangerous her only hope was the aid of a magician - he ran miles to the village, beseeched the filthy-nailed woman selling remedies in the market place, and promised her the scant savings they had. She left their hut with honeyed words of a safe delivery, a mother and babe needing rest and peace, but left behind her an abattoir, a dead woman, an infant frozen almost to death, and none of the few family treasures that once furnished the sole bedroom. Though Sadima survived, the event broke her father. It was thanks only to Micah that she survived childhood - a childhood enlivened by her ability to communicate in pictures with animals. A chance encounter with Franklin, a magician singularly unlike the one who destroyed their family, inspired her. And when, a few years later, Papa died and Micah wanted to wed, Sadima had a plan - she would travel to Limòri and hone her silent-speaking with Franklin. Hahp has been a lifelong disappointment to his father - thrown out of multiple schools, unable to concentrate or obey, he has finally been sent to the magicians who run the Academy of Magic. Little is known of the Academy, but what it known is so terrifying Hahp commits to suicide instead. Or would, if he could be sufficiently decisive. The reality is even worse than he feared - no comfort, no food, and the promise that all but one of the eight-boy intake will die. Hahp's roommate is a lowly fishboy, disciplined far more than he but no more able to create food from air than Hahp, who fights to navigate between survival and the right thing to do. Skin Hunger alternates between Sadima's and Hahp's stories, which take place in the same universe but years apart - for Sadima magic is virtually outlawed but recovering, and she lives with two young men. Franklin is tender but curiously enthralled by Somiss, the son of a wealthy noble who has never been denied a want or whim. Prone to dizzying displays of autocratic fury, Somiss is driven to uncover the spells he's convinced lie half-hidden in the nursery songs of the Gypsies. Though she knows it's forbidden, and that Somiss would literally have her hide if he found out, Sadima teaches herself to read not only the local language but also the Gypsy tongue, increasingly concerned about Somiss's steady decline into madness. Years later, Hahp's teachers are terrifying wielders of magic, most fearsome of whom is Somiss. Franklin is the least frightening, but he's far from warm. But Hahp cares less for this than for what terrifying new rule will affect his life - days without food, for example. This is the first in what is billed as a trilogy, which I half knew going in - the final sentence of the back blurb reads:
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.
Well, yes. Despite my perception that I lacked connection with the book, I found myself reading 'just one more' chapter to find out what happened next to Sadima and Hahp. I'd no doubt have made my way through all three books in a similar mix of unwilling eagerness, had it not been for the sharply abrupt ending. The novel does not end at a natural narrative point, but felt wholly arbitrary, very much as though a full-length novel had been severed at the end of a random chapter. I felt so pissed off by it, and further distanced from the universe Duey's created, that I've decided not to continue. - Alex

No comments: