Ailia doesn’t know who her parents were, where she comes from – or what skin she belongs to, which is perhaps the most important. Despite being adopted by the Cookmother of the tribe and allowed to serve the Tribe Queen, she can never make anything of her life, or even marry. But magical forces seem to dispute that fact: after being saved from terrible rituals twice Ailia finds herself drawn further and further into the mysteries of her land, to the Mothers and into magic.
Set in the Iron-Age with the forces of Rome threatening the small tribes that inhabit pagan Britain, this story melds stunning history with exciting imagination and strong characters. I found myself totally drawn in and insatiably curious to find out just what might happen next. Even writing about it makes me want to read it again.
One thing I was very keen on was the strong female characters. A large proportion of our main characters are women; and Ailia has a variety of relationships with them. She has a mother, and friends, an enemy and the Tribe Queen. These characters differ but are universally independent and free thinking; refreshing in this type of fantasy. Also, the god-figures, the Mothers, are, obviously, female too.
Then there was the magic. Not fully explained, pagan and wild this was intriguing and truly fascinating. There were a couple of parts that perhaps I would have liked a little more time or explanation of, but in total it was great. I really really enjoyed the world that was constructed, the mystery and the way we largely explored it with the same knowledge as her.
The historical detail was amazing too – I loved exploring and learning more about the time period, but not being too bogged down by detail. It was a great balance of imagination and history and I found it really interesting to find out more about the opposition to Roman invasion.
Plus, a moment for the design. The copy I received is a little plain, though a nice big size, but the covers I have seen online look just gorgeous. And it does add to the reading experience! With my copy I also got a postcard telling me what Skin I belong to. I don’t know if that will be in the standard copies but it was a great touch!
I really, really hope this book is big this year! It brought alive a historical period to me (plus magic, obvs) that previously I have not felt compelled to read about, provided excellent characters and a thoroughly satisfying story. I’m ever so glad there’s a book two on the way!