Skin Taker

Authored by Michelle Paver
Published by Zephyr Books

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Skin Taker, the eighth book in The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, with its vivid imagery, skilful world-building and tense storyline is a compelling read. Meticulously researched, it transports the reader to another time and place, perfect for fans of the series but equally enjoyable as a stand-alone story. 

Set in the Stone Age in the frozen lands of what is modern Scandinavia, this instalment opens with a natural disaster. As the Clans gather to celebrate the return of the sun after the long winter a meteor strike destroys the Forest and everything that Torak, Renn and Wolf know is now under threat. They face difficulties beyond their previous imaginings as they fight for survival and they and the different Clans must respond to the challenge; all are tested as the battles for leadership, control and safety mount. 

Michelle Paver’s writing is remarkable in its ability to create a world that feels real despite the huge difference to that which the reader inhabits. Her love of the natural world is evident in the rich descriptions of the settings and one senses the claustrophobic atmosphere of the caves, the smells and sights of the destroyed forests and the feel of the icy rivers that once flowed through them. This is a historical adventure incorporating magic and the supernatural combined with a survival story involving a battle between good and evil. That the author incorporates all these elements is impressive and increases the appeal of Skin Taker to a wide range of readers. 

Although written before the Covid pandemic there are parallels to our current situation as Torak and his people struggle to cope with the effects of a worldwide disaster. The reader witnesses how the Clans alternately blame each other, jostle for control and work together in an effort to overcome their difficulties. This book would be excellent to use in the classroom as a catalyst for discussion on politics and the use and abuse of power. The emphasis on the environment and the respect shown by man to nature in the novel have obvious links to the present day also. 

This is a book that can be read on several levels; as a straightforward exciting adventure, perhaps inspiration to learn more about the Stone Age and hunter-gatherers, older readers may find the growing relationship between Torak and Renn interesting and many will find the battle with the evil demons compelling. Highly recommended for Upper KS2 and KS3. 

You may also be interested in the review of Viper’s Daughter, also from the The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series.

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