The Blurb (from Goodreads):
For the people of Caer Cad, ‘skin’ is their totem, their greeting, their ancestors, their land.
Ailia does not have skin. Abandoned at birth, she serves the Tribequeen of her township. Ailia is not permitted to marry, excluded from tribal ceremonies and, most devastatingly, forbidden to learn. But the Mothers, the tribal ancestors, have chosen her for another path.
Lured by the beautiful and enigmatic Taliesin, Ailia embarks on an unsanctioned journey to attain the knowledge that will protect her people from the most terrifying invaders they have ever faced.
Set in Iron-Age Britain on the cusp of Roman invasion, Skin is a thrilling, full-blooded, mesmerising novel about the collision of two worlds, and a young woman torn between two men.
Earlier this year I read Song Woman by Ilka Tampke and loved it. I had not realised it was the sequel to Skin, and so I grabbed a copy of the first in the series as soon as I could.
A dark historical fantasy set in Celtic Britain during the early days of the Roman invasion, it tells the story of Ailia, who was discovered as an abandoned newborn on the doorstep of her Tribequeen’s kitchen in the year 28 AD. Since her family is unknown, she has no ‘skin’, a kind of totemic knowledge that defines everyone in her culture. Without ‘skin’, she will always be an outsider. She can lie with a young man during the Beltane fires, for example, but she may not marry, and the hidden knowledge of the druids and the bards is forbidden to her.
Ailia is strong and clever, however, and not content with her lot in life. Rebelliously she seeks to learn whatever she can, and so strays into the Other World, where the Mothers give her gifts to help her discover her destiny. Torn between two lovers, struggling to understand her calling, Ailia will need all her strength and courage to face the invading Roman army.
Skin reminded me of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which was one of my favourite books when I was a teenager. It has the same mysterious feel and tragic overtones of a magical world coming to an end, and the same beautiful lyrical writing. Highly recommended.