Despite what the cover may say, Kathleen Duey's SKIN HUNGER, first installment of her fantasy trilogy A RESURRECTION OF MAGIC, is not a novel. It's a third of a novel. Or maybe it's two novels. Maybe it's a sixth. But anyway you slice the cake, it's not enough.
The book alternates chapters narrated by Sadima, a farm girl, and Hahp, a second born son of a cruel merchant. The catch is that they live several generations apart. One in a world that desperately needs magic and the other in one saturated and corrupted by it.
The story opens on the night Sadima is born. Her family is cheated by a fake magician, who instead of assisting in the birth, steals their valuables and lets her mother die. Unsurprisingly, Sadima grows up in a family that hates magic and she is forced to hide her gift of understanding animals. Franklin, a servant of a young nobleman named Somiss, finds her and tells her about his belief that magic will solve all the problems of the world. Together, the three try to rediscover magic. Hahp is sent to an academy of magic. There are nine other boys. Eight of them come from wealthy families and the ninth, Hahp's roommate, is a mysterious peasant named Gerrard. Unlike Franklin's lofty ideals of teaching everyone magic, here everyone must earn the right to learn. And those who do not or cannot will die.
I think this book will appeal to both boys and girls. Initially, each protagonist seems to represent the traditional story of their gender. For Sadima, the girl, it is a love story and for Hahp, the boy, it is an adventure story. At first, I thought the sweetness of Sadima's part was a nice balance to Hahp's grittier and darker part. Over time, the two stories blur together. What Sadima does is now inextricably connected to Hahp's outcome and the future explains the past.
The book is extremely vivid and well thought out. Kathleen Duey creates many unique, strong, and complex major characters. It is undeniably a very dark book, but the main characters are too optimistic and hopeful to make it depressing. Even though it is 357 pages, the font is larger than normal and I finished it in one sitting. And as hinted in the beginning, (and I hope I'm not giving too much away), the story ends with a teeth-gnashing cliffhanger.
I really like how the story is aimed at ages twelve and up, but does not dumb down or gloss over the grittier aspects of life, such as the death of a loved one and the difficulties and consequences of making your own decisions. At the same time, I hesitate to recommend this book to grade school and possibly junior high students. If it were a movie, the violence would probably give it an "R" rating. However, the blood and gore is never gratuitous and always serves to improve the story. I have seen more graphic writing in historical fiction aimed at this age group, such Donna Jo Napoli's STONES IN WATER. It also has the same amount of emotional turmoil in any of the later HARRY POTTER and HIS DARK MATERIALS books. Not for the faint of heart, but still a great first book in what seems to be an addictive trilogy.
Reviewed by: Natalie Tsang