Sunday, January 27, 2008

Skin Hunger

Isn't Kristin sad in her attempt to take back her Blog Queen crown? What she doesn't realize is that her title has already been usurped. I am wearing the tiara now, and there are sooo many books I haven't even blogged yet. Well,-well-well, let's hope this coup doesn't turn bloody. (I'd hate for Kristin to suffer---she reads some good books, but I type faster than she does. I type faster!)

Childish playground games aside, today's Blog Queen's post is about a book that intrigued me but. . . I'm still not sure I really liked it. Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey is the first in a projected trilogy of fantasy novels called "Resurrection of Magic." Two parallel stories, divided in time, are told in alternating chapters. It took me a little while to understand that the second half of the story is being told years and years in the future from the first half, and that the elderly wizards are the much older versions of the young characters from the first half. Once the reader realizes this, it really adds to the story, in terms of comparing and contrasting the old versions to the young, and wondering and worrying about what has happened in the intervening years. Warning: this is a dark, dark world you're entering when you start reading this novel. It's not a happy world and even the characters who are trying to make a difference are contributing to that darkness. The old adage, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions" comes to mind. . .

In the "youth" portions of the novel, two young men are fighting to restore magic to their world. They know real magic exists but charlatans and scam artists have destroyed magic's reputation. One young man is the indentured servant of the other, a son from a wealthy family whose drive to seek real magic becomes frightening in its intensity. . . and in the man's willingness to ignore morality since he feels the ends justify the means. Into their home comes Sadima, a young woman who can sense the emotions of animals, and she begins to temper the voltatile situation, but things become more difficult when she falls in love with the servant. As Sadima realizes the horror of the search for magic, she tries to convince her love to run away with her.

Flash forward several generations into the future. Hahp, another teenage son of another wealthy family, is preparing to go off to wizarding school. If this makes you think Hogwarts, think again. Most young men never return from this school. Exactly one member of each year's class graduates and becomes a wizard. The others? They die. Literally, they die. In the labrythine corridors deep beneath the earth, these hapless students of magic never see daylight. They also never see food, unless they learn enough magic to produce food for themselves. To my horror (and to Hahp's) I realized that several of the magicking students were starving to death. Kindness and a helping hand toward fellow students is strongly discouraged; one student is to become a wizard and it would be foolish to help a rival. But Hahp has a hard time not helping the others, and he needs help too. The wizards who run the school may be wise but they're not kind (again, no Hogwart's, no Dumbledore), and it all makes sense when the reader realizes that two of those teachers are the young men from the first half of the book. But what has happened to Sadima?

This book was greatly unpleasant in a number of ways. It's definitely dark fantasy in the darkest sense. That said, I absolutely have to read the next two volumes. It's a bit frustrating that the book ended without closure. (It is the first in a trilogy, after all. Think how frustrating the end of The Fellowship of the Rings was.) I was horrified by the wizarding school, and I was horrified by the search for magic. But the characters of Sadima and Hahp offer hope. I simply have to know what happened to Sadima, and whether or not Hahp will survive his elite boarding school. This is one of those books that makes the reader uncomfortable at times but stays in the reader's mind long after the book has been closed. Do the ends justify the means? Is love stronger than ambition? Can a person ever change who they are?

I have no idea when Book Two is due out, but it looks like I am in for the long haul now.

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