Snakeskins – Tim Major

Caitlin Hext’s first shedding ceremony is imminent, but she’s far from prepared to produce a Snakeskin clone. When her Skin fails to turn to dust as expected, she must decide whether she wishes the newcomer alive or dead.

Worse still, it transpires that the Hext family may be of central importance to the survival of Charmers, a group of people with the inexplicable power to produce duplicates every seven years and, in the process, rejuvenate. In parallel with reporter Gerry Chafik and government aide Russell Handler, Caitlin must prevent the Great British Prosperity Party from establishing a corrupt new world order.

Snakeskins is an SF thriller examining the repercussions of rejuvenation and cloning on individuals’ sense of identity and on wider society, with the tone of classic John Wyndham stories and the multi-strand storytelling style of modern TV series such as Channel 4’s Humans.

Tim Major‘s Snakeskins is a book that might never have been on my radar if not for the Bookstagram tour put on by Titan Books! I was really excited to be invited to participate, and I’m glad I did, because Snakeskins turned out to be a pretty unique & quirky sci-fi novel!

The book takes place in a sort of alternate Britain, in 2020. There are really just a handful of signs indicating this world isn’t quite our world, most notably, the rarity of cell phones. They seem reserved for the very wealthy only, and even at that, are the huge-ass clunky phones of the early 90’s. A weird little touch, but certainly a lack of cell phones increases tension in key scenes.

Anyhow, certain people in society are what’s known as Charmers. When they reach a certain age (I think it’s 17), they have their first shedding. And in that moment, there’s an exact replica of the person standing right beside them. These folks are known as Snakeskins, or just Skins. Some of them are gone in an instant, leaving nothing but a small amount of ash. Other Skins…hang on for longer periods of time.

There are certain benefits to being a Charmer. They aren’t exactly immortal, but each time they shed (every seven years) they are rejuvenated..revitalized.

There are three main POV characters in the book:

-Caitlin Hext, a sixteen-year-old girl about to experience her first shedding.

-Russell Handler, the personal assistant to Ellis Blackwood, a Minister in the Great British Prosperity Party.

-Gerry Chafik. She’s a recently unemployed journalist who gets the sense there’s a lot more going on behind closed doors regarding Charmers.

Tim Major does an outstanding job weaving these characters in & out of each other’s lives, as they all get caught up in a vast & disturbing conspiracy. Snakeskins is a mystery in its own way, slowly revealing its secrets as you get deeper into the book. I was hooked pretty early on, but the pacing certainly increases in intensity as you get closer to the end.

Of the three POV characters, Caitlin was the one I found most compelling. She’s got a lot of heartache in her past, and she’s trying hard to sort out not just who she is as a person, but how being a Charmer will impact the rest of her life. She’s a thoughtful person, and someone who feels everything quite deeply.

Snakeskins is a book that raises some serious questions, but doesn’t always take itself too seriously. There’s some funny moments & almost absurdist humor sprinkled throughout, and I really appreciated that. I mean, fuck…this book really does give you a lot to think about. The concept of the self. Who are these Skins, anyway? Are they you? A different version of you? A better version? And although the Charmers spontaneously replicate, it certainly brings the idea of cloning to mind. Will we or won’t we? Should we, even if we could? Maybe we already do, but that’s a whole other black hole of conspiracy theories.

This was a super enjoyable book. I really went into this one not knowing what to expect, and ended up devouring it in two days! It’s fast-paced, the characters are well developed, it’s weird, and it’s totally British (and even includes a nod to The War of the Worlds). I think folks who are into things like The X-Files or Orphan Black would love this!

Thanks to Titan Books for the copy, and for inviting me to be a part of the Snakeskins Instagram Tour!

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