Review: Skin Hunger & Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

Title (year): Skin Hunger (2007)

Sequel: Sacred Scars (2009)

Genre: Dark fantasy

Other important themes: Magic, Adults vs. Kids, Friendship, Memory, Struggle to survive, Cruelty, Untangling the puzzle

Age (sex) of main character: Female, 17-?; Male 15-16

Estimated age of intended audience: 14-adult

Wholesome/edgy/realistic?: Edgy, dark, and very stylized

Narrative POV: The books have two narrators who alternate chapters. One story is told in third-person limited, the other in first-person narrative.

Writing quality: Very well written in terms of the immediate. Characters are subtly drawn and settings are vividly brought to life. Overall, however, the story requires a great deal of patience from the reader. Only well into the first book do we see how the two stories intertwine, and even by the end of the second book all the various threads are still unresolved. The story is strangely compelling, nonetheless, and while I usually don’t have the patience to wait this long for the denouement I know I’ll be eager to read Book 3.

Formulaic or surprising?: These stories are unique. I’ve read two of the three books of this trilogy (the third is still unpublished) and still have no idea what’s going on or where the books are headed.

Comfort food/challenging?: Challenging to the extreme. There is very little action in this book, very little magic, even. There are depictions of terrible cruelty and suffering inflicted on children/young adults by older adults. And if you are the type of person who likes to flip to the end of a scene or the whole book to see how a tense situation resolves, there’s no resolution offered so far!

Dark or Light? Endless struggle?: Very dark, very grim. Even the strongest relationships are fraught with violence and betrayal. The set-backs for both main characters are almost unrelenting, though there is still the sense that a happy ending or some sort of resolution may be reached by the end of the trilogy.

Identify with: (people of color, disabled folks, respected elders, working class) Many of the central characters come from working class backgrounds, though mentions of class function stylistically (as they do in fairy tales, e.g. “the Gypsy,” “the poor woodsman”) rather than as an exploration of working class lives.

Read this if you liked… The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books. Anything by Nina Kiriki Hoffman; these books have the same sense of “not playing by the rules” that is fairly unusual in books that deal with magic.

Genre-bender? (recommended to ALL): If you don’t usually read books that have “magical” elements, but have the patience for dark, grim tales full of tension and suspense, I would definitely give at least the first book a try.

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