Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 25, 2015

Skin (2015), by Ilka Tampke

SkinHistorical fiction with fantasy elements is not my usual reading fare, but this debut novel from Ilka Tampke turned out to be enjoyable light reading.  It is set in Southwest Britain in AD43, just as the Roman legions are about to invade, and its heroine is a feisty girl called Ailia.

Ailia’s tribe, the people of Caer Cad, has a belief system based on ‘skin’.  At birth girls are given their skin and sung into being.   This entitles them to participate in ceremonies, and to learn the ancient knowledge of the tribal ancestors, the Mothers.

But Ailia is a foundling, abandoned on the doorstep of the Cookmother, and although she is mysteriously privileged in some ways, she does not know her ‘skin’ and so she is not permitted to learn, to marry or to participate in the rituals of her people.  Analogous to the restrictions on illegitimate children in times gone by, this lack of ‘skin’ is an implacable barrier to full participation in the life of the tribe.  This is a tribe in which women have power and authority, a tribe with a female leader called Fraid, but Ailia who is a natural leader herself, is denied it all.

With the impending Roman invasion, however, things are changing, and the handsome, sexy warrior Ruther sees opportunities where the others see only the destruction of their ancient ways.  He has travelled, and he knows the likely result of any resistance to the invaders.  Impressed by their imperial might and the magnificence of Rome, he sees tradition as a barrier to progress, and his forward-looking attitude makes him open to a relationship with Ailia despite her lack of ‘skin’.

Pulling her heart in the other direction is the enigmatic Taliesin, a man who emerges from the mysterious Old Forest where Ailia has been expressly forbidden to go.   Wilfully, she ventures into unsanctioned areas and is lured into another path that leads to enormous power – if only she had ‘skin’.    It was in this part of the novel that historical fiction sometimes gave way to fantasy and tested my engagement somewhat; I think it would have been a better novel without the magical elements but readers who enjoy fantasy will probably disagree.

The first in a series called ‘The Song of The Kendra’, Skin is about a woman who comes to power as the ancient ways collide with the modernising Romans. Will she be the Boadicea of her tribe, and lead a revolt against the Romans?  Presumably the rest of the series will reveal all…

Author: Ilka Tampke
Title: Skin (The Song of the Kendra #1)
Publisher: Text Publishing, 2015
ISBN: 9781922182333
Source: Review copy courtesy of Text Publishing


Fishpond: Skin
Or direct from Text Publishing



  1. […] talk about pre-literate cultures and the transmission of knowledge.  Ilke is the author of Skin which I reviewed a little while ago, and it features a pre-literate society confronting the changes that came with the Roman invasion […]


  2. […] Well, I had two very good reasons.  One was that the panel included Ilke Tampke who wrote Skins (see my review) and she exemplifies the kind of writer who incorporates a bit of fantasy (or magic realism as I […]


  3. […] Songwoman, Ilka Tampke’s second novel, is the sequel to her remarkably successful novel Skin which has had international rights sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, the US, UK and Vietnam.  A blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Skin was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel, and longlisted for the 2016 Voss.  You can see my review here). […]


  4. […] the one I’ve read, and it certainly wasn’t under-rated by me! It’s the sequel to Skin, which I also liked.  A blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Skin was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Award for […]


  5. […] winner is Songwoman by Ilka Tampke, published by Text Publishing and is the sequel to Skin, which I also liked.  A blend of historical fiction and fantasy, Skin was shortlisted for the 2015 Aurealis Award for […]


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