Book Review: Skin
I finished this interesting read, Skin by Ilka Tampke and I was really surprised by this story as a whole. It was more enjoyable than I thought, more realistic than I had anticipated, but at the same time, flawed where I didn’t expect it. I started off not really knowing where this book would take me — would it be a fair evaluation of the people and the time period? Would it stand up to the research I had done myself into ancient Britain? There were so many twists and turns into the inner world of the character that it did feel entirely realistic, however there were parts where I began to question the veracity of the research.
This read is about one girl’s journey in ancient Britain, just before the Roman invasion. It’s full of magic, mystery, twists and turns, and love — so if you don’t normally read such specific historical fiction but love the genre, then you’ll love this one too.
Here’s what I loved about this read and what I didn’t.
The Characters are Entirely Realistic
If you thought that maybe the characters would fall into old stereotypes and cliches, there’s no need to worry because the characterisation in this read are on point. The dialogue, descriptions, actions and mannerisms all fit within what you would believe to be true for each character. There are druids in this book and no they don’t fall into stereotypes. You’ll be amazed at how well written they are — the only thing I can equate it to is an accurate detailing of a yogi.
The Magic and Mysticism is on Point
The way Tampke describes and explains the intricacies of the Otherworld, or the realm beyond the physical, is astounding. She would’ve had to have known and researched a lot into the mysticism of the time, as well as Eastern traditions. There is a real sense of truth that she describes — like soul journeying, the celebrations and festivals, as well as using herbs and natural phenomena to decipher the mysteries of life. There is a realism to it, a real palatable truth to the mysticism she talks about. This is really hard to find in a book so I was really surprised how well it was done. You’ll be left understanding more about the natural world around you and how you can tap into the wisdom of nature.
An Authentic Rendering of An Earlier Time
It’s difficult to talk about our ancient Brythonic ancestors, seeing as they never left a written trace of their existence. Most of human knowledge and history is passed down orally, and unfortunately for us, that was lost around the time of the various invasions. In saying that, she is able to use the motif of the animal skins really well throughout the whole novel. It’s a pattern and symbol that endures the highs and lows of the novel without seeming out of place. Again, I feel it’s a believable look into how our ancestors thought and felt about the world they lived in. There’s a subtle truth to seeing how all of life is connected, regardless of how distant it may seem.
The Conclusions are Questionable
I don’t just mean the conclusion she had about the Roman invasion, I believe the whole attitude towards the invasion itself wasn’t exactly true. There’s also parts in the novel where there seems to be no hope. Again, this isn’t a conclusion the people of this time would’ve come to themselves, and I’ll tell you why. In ancient South America, just before the Spanish invasion, the seers of the tribe alerted the chief to the coming invasion. The chief stood back and said well, what else is there to do but wait. The chief of the tribe knew the consequences of this invasion was the sign of the times, and there was nothing their civilisation could do to stop it. In life, events happen and sometimes it is a necessary order of things. With the light, comes the dark, it is a process.
Through my own research into the period for my WIP, I already knew that our ancient Brythonic ancestors had the same attitude. Before the rising of Boudicca, they accepted the Romans and lived in their villages. The Romans were also not interested in any native peoples of the lands they conquered converting to their faith, like the Egyptians, they allowed them to practice their own beliefs as long as they paid their taxes. When the Romans left, the native Britons returned to their previous style of house and way of living, until of course, the next wave of Anglo-Saxon invaders.
The final questionable conclusion was the conclusions drawn between a Welsh deity and a character in the book. I won’t spoil it for you but according to my own research, this conclusion doesn’t make any sense with the original myth. Even if you take into account an author’s creative license, for me it doesn’t make any sense as to why this conclusion would be drawn.
The Understanding of the Primordial Goddesses were Off
The understanding of the primordial goddesses was a little off. I’ve done a lot of research into the primordial goddesses of the ancient world, especially the very earliest deities that go back to the Indo-European goddesses. I’ve also come to my own understanding of them through meditation and yoga. I’m always curious to learn more about them and our ancestor’s understanding of them, but I felt in this case given what I know, I don’t see how the description in the book and in reality are the same.
I felt Tampke misconstrued the point of the primordial goddesses, the nature of how energy works (like in the Kabbalah), and also how our ancestors actually perceived these deities. There is a lot to be learned from the past and in this case, we are always discovering more, but in this book, the understanding of the goddesses role and importance to the people were completely off. If you’ve ever read about people’s experience with Ayahuasca, then you’ll know what I’m talking about. I felt the aspect of their loving benevolence just wasn’t there, and that’s a disappointing incongruency.
There Could’ve Been More Creativity
If you know about mythology, specifically the Nordic myth about the Deluge, then you’ll notice this too as soon as you open to page one. Essentially, the myth goes that when the ancient Deluge hit, the wise people of the tribe turned into salmon to escape, and thus when the Deluge was over, they transformed back into men to impart the wisdom from the past to the survivors. This myth also exists in Welsh mythology, which is why the salmon are sacred. Given this knowledge, and the face that the allusion to this myth is used on the first page, that this would appear somewhere? Sadly, not.
I really thought that the whole book was leading up to this, which is why the protagonist didn’t know her animal totem or skin. Sadly this wasn’t the direction the author took at all, and instead she wove it into a weird sub plot that to be honest didn’t make much sense and felt really forced. Sometimes, its better to use the mythology as much as possible to inspire the story line.