Songwoman is the sequel to Skin, which I read a long while ago (I think while I was on honeymoon). I hadn’t realised there was going to be a sequel, so I was really excited to see this pop up on NetGalley!
Book: Songwoman by Ilka Tampke
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC provided free of charge from NetGalley for fair review. All opinions my own.
First things first, this book does not really stand alone, so will be hard to review without spoilers. Consider this fair warning not to read any further if you haven’t read Skin – though if you like historical fiction and are interested in Celtic Britain, go and pick it up, because it’s fabulous!
Songwoman picks up Ailia’s story and follows her from her secluded exile to her involvement with the warlord Caradog’s attempts to oust the Romans from Britain. I found that this second book focused a lot more on the historical and social realities of Ailia’s world, rather than the mystical aspects that took up much of book one – she is still the Kendra, the woman chosen by the Mothers, and she begins to train as a bard, combining the two different spiritual paths, but there is less doing-of-magic and more stating-I-am-magic-and-therefore-here’s-our-plan. This really worked for me – I loved the magic of the first book, but to add to that would have been repetitive, whereas bringing Ailia into the dangers of the real world allowed the story’s pace to really flow.
I have a particular interest in Britain on the cusp of Roman civilisation, and have actually studied a fair bit about it, so I enjoyed seeing how the historical figures were worked into the story. Of course, that did mean I knew how some events would turn out, but as with a lot of historical fiction, how much you know what’s coming up will depend on your knowledge of the period. I didn’t find this spoiled the story at all; in fact, I was impressed with how the author built the tension when I already knew the outcome! For some reason, these books really remind me of The Clan of the Cave Bear and sequels – I think it’s the spiritual but practical heroine who finds herself in the midst of important historical events.
Caradog looms large in this story, and I found him fascinating, if slightly unknowable. I did think that his decisions over how to fight back against the Romans took up slightly too much page space, and made the story sag a little in the middle, but on the whole, he was a really interesting character for Ailia to have to learn to deal with. I missed Taliesin, and wish we’d seen more of Rhain, the songman who trains Ailia, but that’s a personal preference as I just really love bards.
Although the plot can be summed up fairly neatly, there’s something larger than life about Ilka Tampke’s writing. You get the sense of a world deeper than you can know – the hills and forests of Ancient Britain are vivid and mystical. Reading Songwoman is an experience, as well as a story. There’s this richness to the language and the atmosphere it creates that makes it very hard for me to write about it – it really is one that you need to read for yourself. Four out of five cats from me, and it’s cemented for me that I’ll be reading anything the author writes.