Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey. What an absorbing book. I can’t wait to read the next one, the ending was such a cliff-hanger. Why do I always find books where the next one in the series isn’t out yet?! Agonizing to wait. Simply, agonizing.
Okay, back to talking about this book. This story follows the lives of two individuals: Sadima and Haph. Sadima’s story takes place in the ‘past’, a time when true magic was dormant, and people were wary of it. Sadima’s magic allows her to commune with animals, getting glimpses into their world, and she sometimes secretly helps those creatures who are suffering under the hands of humans. True magic was not widely practiced, and the world was rampant with fake wizards and sorcerers claiming to know the secrets of magic when all they do is trick and steal. Basically, magic had a bad name in her day. One day, Sadima meets a fellow who claims to know the ways of the secret language, and understands Sadima’s abilities. He and his lord are working on a project to decipher and resurrect the ancient language of magic and use it for the good of society. This part of the story sketches out the beginnings of what we will see in the future: Haph’s world.
In Haph’s world, magic is accepted, and in fact needed in order to remain competitive and fashionable. Haph, who is the worthless second son of a bully of a father, is sent to a wizard academy. This part of the story is much darker, portraying the corruption of the wizards and of the noble visions the founders of the academy originally had. Haph’s tale is a dark story of survival, as only one wizard can graduate from the academy at a time – the rest of the candidates become “part of the school” and are never seen again. If he tried to help another through something as simple as learning magic to get food and keep from starving, he would induce the wrath of Somiss, the school headmaster of sorts. It is tragic and compelling, I don’t think I’ve ever read a story like it. From the start, you get almost a continuous stream of Haph’s thoughts. His shame over his own cowardliness, his fury against his father, his cold-sweat fear of the heartlessness of the academy. But when I read this novel, Haph’s story drew me in the most. Even though he was portrayed as a cowardly, spoiled loser, who, compared to the others competing to graduate in the academy, seemed the weakest, one can’t help but root for him. Despite his lack of confidence he shows he is intelligent and observant, a survivor and the wild card of the candidates. Through Kathleen Duey’s words, you can get an intimate glimpse of Haph’s thoughts, his loneliness, the images of his previous life kept distinctly in his mind, and just the raw truth of what he’s thinking. If I were faced with his challenges, I would honestly, probably be thinking things just as negative and cowardly as him.
Both Sadima’s and Haph’s story progress side-by-side, and things are slowly revealed to the reader scene by scene. Kathleen Duey writes smoothly and vividly, and I ate up every page. Every time Haph was faced with a new, crueler or stranger challenge, I was eager to find out what he would do to surprise his mysterious teachers. You end up really wanting Haph to do something so unexpected as to shake the distant, cold masters of magic into reacting like human beings again. The whole academy is, if you are a Harry Potter fan, like Hogwarts gone wrong. Imagine Harry only having Professor Snape’s class. Well, actually, in that case, Harry might be better off, because at least he can categorize that Snape treats him that way because he hates him. In Haph’s case, his masters are crazedly removed from the value of human life, the epitome of heartless indifference, where every apprentice seems expendable. Even though Haph may seem to appease these figures one day, the next day he could be right at the bottom of the heap again, punished for his failures, gaunt from starvation and delusional from fear.
Here’s a little excerpt from Haph’s story:
We smelled horrible – but I don’t think anyone cared anymore. I didn’t. I was almost happy, which sounds crazy, but it was true. I was beginning to believe I might live, at least a while longer. I was getting good at keeping track of the tunnels. And I was eating better. Much better.
I worked out ways to eat alone. Gerrard did the same. I smelled fish on his breath almost every day. But after Franklin’s classes, we went to the food hall together as we always had, both of us acting as though I still needed to follow him. He would pretend to try to make food and fail, and I would make a few apples, then we would leave.
Gerrard and I never once talked about it, but we understood each other. We didn’t want the ones who were unable to eat to know we were eating. It was simple for me: I couldn’t stand them knowing because I was ashamed of being too scared to help them. For Gerrard it was probably more complex, some strategy in the competition to graduate.
Ooo I can barely wait to read Sacred Scars which is Book Two of this Resurrection of Magic trilogy. It’s got THREE books. With a long wait in between each book? I still feel like my mind is running around in the tunnels of the Academy, hiding food and memorizing nonsense rhymes to find my way back. Read this novel and let me know what you think! Here is her website by the way.