I’d heard a lot of good things about Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger before finally picking it up. It’s blurbed by Holly Black, Nancy Farmer, and Donna Jo Napoli, and Justine Larbalestier has also said great things about it on her blog. That’s an impressive list of people who loved this one! It was also a National Book Award finalist. All of which are great endorsements for the book, but lead to (possibly unreasonably) high expectations.
When I started this book, I was less than impressed. It’s two (at first, seemingly disconnected) narratives, the first third-person from the point of view of Sadima, a girl with magic living in a time when it’s banned, and the second the first-person narrative of Hahp, a boy sent to the wizards’ academy to learn magic–or, more likely, to perish within its walls, as over 90% of those who come in do–in a time when magical secrets are kept hidden, but are greatly respected (a later time).
Both are good. At first, neither story really blew me away. I put the book down several times, after just a few pages, with no particular rush to finish.
Somewhere, though, it started to grow on me, without me even knowing it. By the time I neared the end of the book, I couldn’t put it down! I raced to find out what would happen next to the characters. I don’t want to say it starts slow, because that doesn’t even feel like the right wording to use, but I don’t know what is. Whatever the reason, though, it quickly became one of my favorite fantasies in recent memory. I was actually strongly reminded of Tamora Pierce as I read, which, from me, well, there’s little higher praise; I adore Tamora Pierce’s books. A quick note, though: it’s the writing that reminds me of Tamora Pierce, not the characters–Pierce would never write the character of Sadima. She is realistic, for her world, yes, but Pierce’s heroines are generally far more independent than Sadima is.
The characters, who at first seemed rather flat, quickly grew quite real to me. Kathleen Duey’s writing drew me in, and she made me believe in not one world, but two, over the course of one novel! That’s really rather remarkable. The story moves along quickly, but not too quickly–there’s so much suspense building! My only issue with this brilliant novel, once I’d finished, was that it does not stand on its own. It is not a story in and of itself; there are major cliffhangers at the end. As much as I love series, I also like the books to be able to stand on their own, to some extent, and Skin Hunger doesn’t have that. I don’t want to wait ages for book number two; I’ve become invested in the lives of these characters! I want to know what happens next!