Review of Skin Hunger and Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Skin HungerKathleen Duey’s Resurrection of Magic series begins with Skin Hunger, followed by the current book in the trilogy, Sacred Scars.  I came across Skin Hunger, almost by accident, as part of a sale in a book catalogue.  I was attracted by the title and the arresting cover art, but that was all I knew about the book.

The trilogy is concerned with the teaching of magic.  Many generations ago, magic was common and controlled by magicians, who were both feared and courted for their great powers.  A series of revolutions drove magic underground or into the folk songs sung by peasants, mere superstition.  The mysterious Somiss is determined to bring magic back, but in doing so he conducts evil experiments, unwillingly aided by his companion/slave Franklin.  The narrator of the story is Sadima, a goodhearted farm girl who has the power to communicate with animals and runs away to follow Franklin.  Sadmina is brave and strong but she cannot persuade Franklin to leave Somiss and so they both reluctantly help him, always planning on a way of escaping and taking the magic somewhere it can be used for good.

Sadmina’s chapters are alternated with those of another voice, Hahp, written in the first person.  Hahp lives hundreds of years after Sadmina’s story.  He has been forcably enrolled in a magicians’ school, run by two wizards called… Somiss and Franklin.  Hahp and his companions ensure the most unimaginable cruelty as part of their training, and they are told that only one – or none – will leave.

If you are thinking of a magicians’ school in the Hogwarts vein, think again.  Imagine Hogwarts where all the teachers are Voldemorts, all of the students potential Malfoys.  Imagine no light, no food, no water unless you pass your next test.  Kathleen Duey’s narrative is full of surprises.  Just when you think things can’t get any worse for Hahp and the other boys, they do.  Just when you think you know what to expect, everything changes.  I found Hahp’s chapters the most compelling because there were so many questions I wanted to find the answers to, just like the narrator himself.

Sacred Scars

Skin Hunger was a fabulous book, but it took me a while to get around to reading the sequel, Sacred Scars.  One reason for this was that when I was out in bookshops I could never remember the name of the first book.  Skin Hunger is a great title, but it doesn’t actually bear much relation to the events in the book, or really seem to represent the book in any way.  When I got my Kindle I thought I would download the sequel, but it’s not available as an e-book.  Then recently I asked for the sequel in a London branch of Waterstone’s.  To my amazement it wasn’t stocked.  Finally I ordered the paper version through Amazon.

I am so glad I made the effort to continue with the trilogy.  I absolutely loved Sacred Scars, even more than Skin Hunger.  It continues both Sadima’s and Hahp’s stories, but again I was constantly surprised and amazed at the events that unfolded.  The backstory of the suppression of magic and the various uprisings I found a little confusing, even with the help of Hahp’s history book, and at the end I was unsure whether a betrayal had taken place or not.  Hopefully that will becoming clearer in book three.  As for the magician’s school in the underground caves, I am bursting to find out what the truth is behind the horrible ordeals.

According to Kathleen Duey’s blog she is currently writing the final book.  There are some fascinating snippets on the blog about where she is up to at the moment, the order that she writes the chapters in, and her inspirations.  I can’t wait.

I would recommend this book to young adults who enjoy gritty fantasy, as well as to any adult.  It reminded me a little of Trudi Canavan’s Magician trilogy but with an even darker edge.

Writer’s notes

What have I learned from these books that could help me as a writer?

  • Surprise – Duey constantly surprises her reader.  But not in a random way.  When the shocks happen, they feel right.
  • Deep emotion – all Duey’s characters are real and emotional.  Sadima and Hahp feel, and we feel with them.
  • World building – like Catherine Fisher in Incarceron, Duey deftly creates a world which feels completely real, even though it is alien to our own.
  • Questions – most good novels have a central question you read on in order to learn the answer to.  In Duey’s books I have so many questions I don’t know where to start!  I am fascinated to see how all these will resolve.  Questions keep you reading, but remember to tease your readers with some possible answers before you deliver the final shock!