The Loosening Skin by Aliya Whiteley

Publisher – Unsung Stories

Price - £9.99 paperback

Published – Out Now

Some people burn love, and some bury it. Some people keep it locked up or push it far under the bed. Some sell it

Love dies, every seven years. When people shed their skin, it’s a fact of life that we cast off our old attachments. We move on.

Now there may be a new wonder drug, Suscutiin – an end to shedding. Now you can keep your skin forever. Now you never need change who you are.

But its not so simple for celebrity bodyguard Rose Allington. Her moults come quickly, altering everything about her who she is, who she loves. When Rose gets a call from superstar Max Black, she has to go back to a previous life. One of his skins has been stolen, and it could be the end of his career.

The bridge between December and January for me is one of the most powerful times of the year.  We get a chance to look back at our lives at what went well and what we want to do next. Our capacity to change is one of our most important and scary features.  And while this can be be professionally it can also mean we change the people we are in various forms of relationships with. In Aliya Whiteley’s amazing novel this change is not slow but sudden and as such has immediate consequences for those in your life when it happens.  The consequences of this on people is the intriguing story you’ll be gripped by.

In a world parallel to our own humans will regularly shed their skin via ‘moulting’. When this happens, people experience the end of relationships.  Your desire and love for a partner could instantly turn at best to friendship or even total apathy.  Your desire for a job or style of décor are all likely to change overnight.  Your old skin holds the emotions of the past so is often disposed of as on the black market that skin is used as clothing for people to feel your life and loves. The first half of the story focuses on Rose Allington a bodyguard to one of the most famous movie stars in the world.  They were briefly also in a relationship but after her last moult that ended suddenly, and she lost touch.  Now Max is hiring her to find one of his skins on the black market and in doing so she revisits her life and finds not everyone she knew in her old life can still be trusted.

This is one of the most fascinating stories I’ve read this year.  The moulting is a way for Whiteley to explore the events that a person changes and this aided by two weaving narratives of Rose investigating the skin’s theft and various events that led her to her current situation in life – when you want to leave your parents; the end of your first love or the first job you took.  While for most people these are parts of the learning curve for Rose who suffers from an even more extreme form of the condition undergoes huge 180 degree turns in how she sees life and those in it.  For some who know her this is a tragedy but there is also a lot to be said for knowing that its time to move on. 

The concept of moulting really does make us think back to how certain events and people shape us and what is the purpose of continual changes or is staying in the same life/form of love healthier?  Some writers would make such a tale a giant action-packed adventure story but its uniquely set in English villages outside of London making this a more intimate story of how people react to changes in their life.  The world building shown is fantastic as Whitely explores how would such a life impact society from parental relationships to the types of crimes that people would commit using the skins.  It doesn’t explain itself immediately, so you’re rewarded for reading throughout the story and understanding how this world works.

The second half of the book looks at the impact of Rose’s investigations several years into the future.  A different lead takes up the investigator role and we start to see how various characters were impacted by Roses’ discoveries.  This explores the concept of friendship, redemption and ultimately love.  These things we tend to think of as in a permanent state can like skins change due to events and that has an impact on the person changing and those around them.   There is one character who is praised by nearly the whole world for managing to be in a stable relationship with multiple partners for many months and that is seen as the ideal for most people.  But revisiting those experiences is that truly perfection and should it such a love be forever?  At no point is the reader being preached to, but this is an excellent way to examine our own reactions to changes in life and loves in particular how we interpret events when they happen to us and later looking back in the past with benefit of experience.  Trust and love are two very powerful themes throughout the book and it is something I’ve been thinking about ever since I closed the pages

Aliya Whiteley has already given two amazing stories in recent years with the excellent The Beauty and Arrival of the Missives (both of which you really need to track down if not yet) but I think this may be her best yet.  Looking at the nature of love, relationships and how these change people and change themselves over time is beautifully done and I really think if you enjoy seeing how fantasy can make you look at our world and see it in a new light this one is definitely for you.