book review, historical fiction

Review: Skin by Ilka Tampke

Also known as Daughter of Albion: A Novel of Ancient Britain in other countries.

Skin by Ilka Tampke takes place in the 1st century AD, when the Roman Empire began to encroach upon the British Isles. Although rooted in the history and culture of ancient tribal Britain, Tampke weaves a magical element into the story based on the Druids (although she doesn’t call them Druids in this book.) Her world is Albion, the tribal lands that worship the Mothers and have journeymen and women who can pass through both realms–the realm of the Mothers and the hardworld, to share wisdom and knowledge with the tribes. The world and culture Tampke has created is very much reminiscent of Mists of Avalon–passing the veil, the powerful women who have magic and train upon an isle beyond the mists, etc. Another important aspect of Albion’s culture is the “skin,” or a clan, (dog, fish, deer, etc) each person belongs to, identifying them as fully born; a person with a whole soul who has the privilege to learn and choose their life’s path. However, Ailia is one of the lowly skinless. A foundling taken in by the tribe Queen’s cook. Skinless, Ailia is not permitted to learn, hold a profession like journeywoman, marry, or join in many of the societal rites of passage.

But Ailia stumbles upon her destiny and inherent power as chosen by the Mothers. Albion believe a powerful woman will lead the tribes, the woman known as The Kendra. Ailia chafes against cultural norms as she is skinless, yet is marked for greatness by the Mothers. From here, Ailia follows the classic hero’s journey: a nobody becoming THE somebody.

I really enjoyed the premise and world building of Skin. Tampke’s writing is visually engaging, illustrating all the beauty and harshness of Iron Age Britain. I have a soft spot and nostalgia for Mists of Avalon, so naturally I loved that Skin carried that vibe, yet created something of its own.

Grade: A+