One of my favorite things about this book is Caitlin Hext, one of our main characters, whose emotional journey as an insufferable adolescent thrust into dealing with the seemingly impossible causes her to perpetrate reckless acts in order to do good and, eventually, to realize how she used to be and how she’s growing as a person. It’s weird: I read a lot of YA, yet this adult SF novel is by far one of the most convincing portrayals of burgeoning maturity I’ve ever read.
Perhaps a lot of that has to do with the central conceit of the novel: there are, among us — or among the British, I should say — a breed of people who shed their skins every seven years or so starting from the age of 17. Generally, this is done in a private ceremony to honor the old skin before it dissipates as ash and stardust, tho a government official is usually sent to make an official recording of the event. With each shedding, each of these people, called Charmers, regains peak physical health, and seemingly sheds the least healthy of their mental and emotional preoccupations with the ashing of their former skin. Caitlin is one of the last of the Hext line, and thinks she knows everything she needs to about the process as her 17th birthday approaches. But when her shed skin not only doesn’t disintegrate but is swiftly spirited away by the government, Caitlin finds herself at the center of a far-reaching conspiracy that goes back centuries.
Parallel to Caitlin’s story are those of Gerry Chafik, an investigative reporter with a fixation on Charmers, and Russell Handler, a political aide whose desire to ascend the party ranks is soon eclipsed by his desire for his employer’s wife. Tim Major expertly weaves their stories together into a compelling sci-fi narrative that looks at cloning and rejuvenation and the potential implications of such on a country’s political development. It’s a remarkably thoughtful consideration of identity and humanity, as the best sci-fi thrillers invariably are. And while it’s a fairly tidy novel, I still felt it might have been expanded… well, perhaps that’s not the word. There were bits of plot thread that I felt could have been woven more tightly into the overall tapestry — like I get that it’s not that important to know what happened to Ayo after he went back for Dodie, but I’d still like to know — so while this novel stands alone quite well on its own, I wouldn’t mind reading further explorations of the setting in future novels.
Our interview with Mr Major himself will be out on the 14th! Meanwhile, check out some of the other stops on the Snakeskins blog tour in our handy-dandy graphic on the right .