What happened to the boys who walked inside those doors? No one knew. But the white pony’s eyes reminded me of the cold, strange eyes of the wizards. I stared at the cliff’s edge. It was high enough ten times over. If I ran straight out and jumped, I would die. I glanced at my father. I would never again have to hear how I disappointed and shamed him, how fortunate he was that Aben was the older of his sons, the one who would inherit. My mother would weep, but she would understand, I thought. Surely she had thought about it at least once, about escaping from my father forever.

Well this is it. Tomorrow I fly out of Sydney back to Ireland for a short visit. Let my folks now I’m a-ok. And, of course, look up some much-missed friends. Still it feels unusual to be sitting here in Bulli, typing up this review. It’s been a long trek to get to this point.

On the plus side, as I am continuing with the blog, many of the old rules no longer apply. Such as my (occasionally broken) ban on reading the same author twice. So I will be attacking Stephanie’s latest challenge – to read as many books as posible on the flight to Dublin – aided and abetted by my trusty Kindle, with its collection of my favourite writers. As well as a few indie books too.

It’s been fun people.

Skin Hunger is told from the points of view of two characters. Hahp, a boy from a wealthy family starved of love and living in fear of his father; and Sadima, whose birth led to the death of her mother and crushed her own father’s heart. Both grow up to become emotionally wounded and lonely adolescents, but their fates could not be more different.

Hahp is sent to join a secret academy for wizards. Magic itself was stamped out centuries ago and the practice of it was made illegal by royal decree. In effect Hahp has vanished from the surface of the earth, as no one can know where he is or what he is doing. This new wizards for their own part deprive the young academy applicants of all comforts and sustenance, seemingly intent on starving the boys to death. It becomes clear that Hahp is little more than a guinea pig in this new push to rediscover the source of magic itself.

Sadima escapes the drudgery of life on the farm after her father passes away. Having run his household for him from a young age, filling the domestic void left by her mother, she has always dreamed of running away. For most of her life she has been different, having the ability to communicate telepathically with the various animals on the farm. One day she meets a man from the city of Limòri who recognizes her talent and invites her to follow him to the newly founded academy. When her father passes away, Sadima finally chooses to go and enters the household of Franklin and Somiss, the founders of this underground academy.

As time passes Sadima develops a strong affection for the gentle Franklin and is puzzled by his subservient relationship to the taciturn Somiss. However, she discovers her domestic skills ease along the work of the two wizards quite well and comes to enjoy her life in the bustling city. Meanwhile Hahp is trapped in a cold cell, accompanied only by fellow starving young boys fighting to survive, covered in filth and sores.

There is some initial confusion in the first half of the book as the behaviour of Somiss and Franklin to the young charges of their ‘academy’ seems to contradict Sadima’s perception of them both. Slowly author Kathleen Duey draws out the reasons behind their unusual project. The majority of the novel is concerned with the sufferings of Hahp and Sadima’s growing romantic interest in Franklin. At first I did admire Duey for introducing a vision of such cruelty to the young adult fantasy stable.

However, at times the book resembles fantasy misery lit, turgid and callous. It feels like the story was pitched as ‘The Dresden Dolls enroll in Hogwarts’! As the book is the first in a series it ends with the story unfinished, but I really cannot muster up the interest to continue with it.

Initially interesting in its depiction of the dark side of human nature in a fantasy setting, but ultimately exhausting.

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