Skin Hunger is two stories in one. Told in alternating chapters, Skin Hunger follows the story of Sadima, a farm girl who can speak to animals. Her mother died when the magician hired to heal her instead stole the family’s few valuables and left her to die as she gave birth to Sadima. Seeking to find someone who can understand her abilities, she runs away to the distant city Limòri and starts keeping house for two budding magicians. The second story concerns Hahp, a young man sent to the Magical Academy in Limòri by a father who wants to get rid of him. Set several centuries after Sadima’s story, Hahp lives in a time where magic is strictly controlled by a secretive enclave of magicians. In any class of students, only one becomes a magician, and the other students are never seen again.
I picked up Skin Hunger before I went to bed, intending to only read a few pages. Two hours later, I finally made myself put the book down, knowing that sleeping late the next morning was impossible. I picked it back up as soon as I woke, and sneaked in chapters between other tasks throughout the day. I was mesmerized by the story. It didn’t bother me that Skin Hunger flipped back and forth between two separate stories because they were both incredibly well written and compelling. As interconnections between the two stories appeared, it drew me even deeper into the tale.
Though written for a YA audience, this is not a light or easy novel. The magicians at the academy psychologically and physically torture their students to the breaking point. Watching these young men falter and fail was emotionally painful at times. Duey does not shy away from some of the grimmer realities of family and romantic relationships, setting up a bizarre love triangle between Sadima and the two magicians. Considering that half of the book takes place in a magical academy, there is very little actual magic done in the book. Instead, Duey relies on the characters to create a breathtaking, and heart-aching, story.
Visceral and dark, Skin Hunger is a National Book Award finalist. It is the first book in a planned trilogy, and ends on a cliffhanger. I am very interested in finding out what happens to Sadima and Hahp in their separate stories, and to see if their plans come to fruition. I would like to believe that a happy ending is possible, but right now I’m not sure how they will accomplish it. I highly recommend this book to any reader, YA or adult, who enjoys dark, character-driven fantasy.
A Resurrection of Magic — (2007-2008) Young adult. Publisher: Sadima lives in a world where magic has been banned, leaving poor villagers prey to fakes and charlatans. A “magician” stole her family’s few valuables and left Sadima’s mother to die on the day Sadima was born. But vestiges of magic are hidden in old rhymes and hearth tales and in people like Sadima, who conceals her silent communication with animals for fear of rejection and ridicule. When rumors of her gift reach Somiss, a young nobleman obsessed with restoring magic, he sends Franklin, his lifelong servant, to find her. Sadima’s joy at sharing her secret becomes love for the man she shares it with. But Franklin’s irrevocable bond to the brilliant and dangerous Somiss traps her, too, and she faces a heartbreaking decision. Centuries later magic has been restored, but it is available only to the wealthy and is strictly controlled by wizards within a sequestered academy of magic. Hahp, the expendable second son of a rich merchant, is forced into the academy and finds himself paired with Gerrard, a peasant boy inexplicably admitted with nine sons of privilege and wealth. Only one of the ten students will graduate — and the first academic requirement is survival. 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.