This is spoiler free, so feel free to read away!
As soon as I noticed this got nominated for the National Book Award, I knew I had to read it. I’d already read two other of the nominated books: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie and Story of a Girl – Sarah Zarr. Although I liked both of those titles I was a little disappointed, make that very disappointed, not to see two of my favorites listed instead: Red Glass – Laura Resau and Cures for Heartbreak - Margo Rabb. So, of course, now I have to read the rest of the books to be fully annoyingly opinionated (not that I wouldn’t be otherwise but I should probably attempt to base my opinions on more than just airy feelings).
Skin Hunger was the first on my list as it had been sitting on my bookshelf at work staring at me for the past month as I tried to get all my required reading done. The first thing you notice when you begin reading is that there are two storylines that don’t seem to fit together at all. I kept wondering if I had missed something important, in fact I wondered this so much I had to go to the front book flap and read the summary so I could figure out what was going on. It turns out that was intentional, so with that I settled down and started reading again (and later on wished I hadn’t read the darn flap because…well I’ll get to that).
One story line features Sadima, a girl born into a poor farming family who live at a time when kings rule, there is widespread poverty, and magic has been banned. Sure there are still magicians, but they are hacks and fakes who are as likely to rob you as to actually help you. The second story line features Hahp, a boy born into a very wealthy family at a time magic has been restored. His father hates him and sends him away to wizard school. At first, if you’re like me, you’ll wonder what is up with these two extremely separate story lines. You might be confused and feel like you missed out on clues. You didn’t. The thing I enjoyed most about this story is that the author doesn’t dumb it down for you. She trusts the reader to keep reading on the strength of the two stories until such a time when it makes sense to begin to entwine them together. And believe me, when the stories finally come together at the “reveal," it is an example of really powerful writing.
This turned out to be a really dark book and I can’t say this better than Nancy Farmer on the back flap so I’ll just quote her, “Never have wizards appeared so foul or their apprentices so tormented. Magic is definitely a mixed blessing here.”
Not much is wrapped up at the end of the book and I for one am eagerly awaiting the sequel.