Snakeskins by Tim Majors

I would like to thank Lydia at Titan for an advance copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review

Publisher – Titan

Published – Out Now

Price - £8.99 paperback

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…

The Hext family may be of central importance to the survival of Charmers, people with the inexplicable power to produce duplicates every seven years. In parallel with reporter Gerry Chafik and government aide Rusfell Handler, Caitlin must prevent the Great British Prosperity Party from establishing a corrupt new world order….

There is a medical myth that every seven years we are a completely new person. Its always interesting to think about the person you were and how you got to where you are now.  Would you always make the same choices? In Tim Major’s latest novel, he takes an intriguing concept of alternate selves and creates a unique world and puzzle for the reader to crack.

The central idea that drives the story is that a few hundred people circa 200 years ago developed a power after a meteorite strike. A person ‘the Charmer’ every seven years then would create a momentary duplicate ‘the Snakeskin’ upon appearing the Skin usually becomes ash, but the charmer finds themselves refreshed and usually gets blessed with improved health and longevity. This power has been pushed down the family line.  Traditionally feared as shadowy legends in the last forty years the charmers are now out in the public eye and often in key positions in power. Into this Caitlin Hext approaches her first change. She wonders how this power works and finds the attitudes of people to her ability abhorrent. But then she changes and her Skin stays staring at her way past the usual few seconds….and then her double runs away and gets captured by lurking strangers. Caitlin is about to learn a whole lot more about being a Charmer.

This is a really unique idea and I was really impressed with the thought Majors has given to the world building to drive their tale. One intriguing theme is that as the Charmers secretly moved into positions of power (with neat ideas of using kids programmes to make long-lived super powered people lovable) the UK actually turned inwards circa forty years ago – mobiles exist but are large qand fit in SUITCASES; there is no internet and information is on floppy disks. Factories are not automated. Its an intriguing UK set-up and there is an intriguing theme of the Great British Prosperity Party (now run by Charmers and weirdly formerly the Tory Party) taking over with a PM who has been in the role for decades. It’s a strangely dated version of UK not just in layout but the way people speak to one another makes the story feel weirdly disassociated from our version of 2020. As uif we would ever want to cling to our past!!

But while the alternate timeline setting is dated, I was pleased that most of the main protagonists are women. Caitlin, I think is the heart of the story and for a teenager feels much more authentic than the tendency to make some teens ultra-mature. Caitlin veers from sympathy to Skin to revulsion as finding someone like you thinking they are you staring you in the face.  I really warmed to her and got invested in her emotional journey plus enjoyed how she acted on impulse and often realised she had done so too late – a very engaging lead. Alongside this are Gerry a journalist fixated on the Charmers and their grip on society have one last look into their world. Finally, Russell a senior politician’s attaché who is getting phone calls telling him he cannot trust his boss or government. There is an intriguing intersection of their quests that reveals something absolutely nasty at the heart of the UK govt that seems focused on its elites.   There is a lovely moral question here about are clones human that makes several characters’ reactions power the story.

My one issue is that the book feels a bit weighted at the start. The concept is so unusual that the first third is setting up a lot of worldbuilding and there is a feeling of being explained to rather than a reader discovering how this world works more organically. But once that is embedded and we have a clearer understanding the action and the mysteries really set up the reader to then find out more. I really hope there is another tale to tell in this world as a few plot threads appear to be left dangling plus I think now the main concept is be the idea of people with alternate selves living lives alongside their duplicates would be fascinating.  A strong tale and lots of promise.  I think if you enjoy thrillers like Orphan Black or Humans then this may be a really interesting story for you