Skin is an impressive debut novel by Ilka Tampke who is also a former winner of the Glenfern Fellowship. The story is a coming-of-age one that is set in Southwest Britain (now Somerset) during the Iron Age. It blends together historic fiction and fantasy elements as well as some lyrical prose, which makes it reminiscent at times of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant.
The novel has a strong lead character. She is a young woman named Ailia who was abandoned at birth. This means she has no “skin”. The latter is a medieval totem that allows a person to marry, participate in ceremonies and to learn.
Ailia has lived a good life. She was abandoned on the doorstep of the Tribequeen as a baby. But she was raised by the kindly cookmother who was in charge of the kitchen. This lady teaches Ailia about the world (the characters are what we know today as the druids) and ancient healing methods.
The novel does take a little while to get flowing and some readers may find it hard to reconcile the two different elements of history and fantasy. But for those people who are fans of this kind of genre, they will be pleasantly surprised by Tampke’s research and attention to detail.
The story ultimately shows how a pagan and pre-Christian tribe have important customs and rituals and how they deal with the imminent thread of the invading Romans. There is also a romantic triangle for people to enjoy. And this is the first book in a series which should prove to be quite popular.
Skin is an evocative read that has been deftly-crafted. It is a little slow and nuanced at first but it does improve and become a very promising debut from an exciting new voice in Australian fiction. This is ultimately one complex and detailed spiritual journey though the past.
***Please note: a free copy of this book was given to the writer through a The Reading Room giveaway. To read the original review on that website please visit: https://www.thereadingroom.com/book/skin/9190146/