Set in Iron-Age Albion, Skin follows the life of a young, unskinned girl named Ailia as she makes her way through life as an outcast in a skinned society.
This reference to skin is initially quite misleading – thankfully it’s not as gory as it sounds. Children are born twice when they’re young – once physically, and once spiritually to a tribe, known as skin. In Caer Cad, the village that Ailia grows up in, skinned people live and work in the village, while the unskinned are shunned to the borders.
Ailia is blessed with a servant’s position in the kitchen of the tribesqueen. Her lucky position comes at a price, however, as Ailia is forbidden to learn, marry and attend ceremonies. Her lack of skin may see her barred from the life she dreams of, but the Mothers that each skin worship have other plans for Ailia.
From the off, Skin is an engaging and thrilling read. Ailia’s life is described emotively and in plenty of detail, which makes it easy to empathise with the characters – not just Ailia, but those that attempt to protect her and shield her from the truth.
It helps that characters are rich and vibrant; the descriptive style provides a visual dimension. An illustrated map at the start of the book seems a little superfluous, but it’s another detail that contributes to the visual element of the novel.
Skin is steeped in history, too. Based in the Iron Age, with Britain is on the cusp of a Roman invasion, there are plenty of references to Celtic Britain – most notably the journeypeople, who represent druid priests.
A subtle blend of reality, fantasy, romance and action, Ilka Tampke’s first novel is a beautiful read. She has created a mystical world that’s certain to charm most readers.