Under My Skin by Shawntelle Madison

Under My Skin by Shawntelle Madison(Cover picture courtesy of NetGalley.)

Everyone wants to either be a member of the Guild or work for them. Little does the populace know that the Guild hides sinister secrets…

For Tate Sullivan, life in her small, coastal town is far from glamorous. The affluent lives of the Guild members and their servants isn’t something she has ever wanted. But all sixteen year-olds must take a simple test, and Tate’s result thrusts her into the Guild’s world, one where they hide horrible plans for those they select. Tate must fight the relentless General Dagon for control of her mind, body, and soul to keep the one precious thing she has always taken for granted: herself.

Her only ally is the same handsome boy she is pitted against in General Dagon’s deadly game. Quinn desires nothing more than to end the life of General Dagon who has taken over Tate’s mind. While romance blooms between Tate and Quinn, General Dagon plots to eventually take over Tate’s body, and love might end before it even begins.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Okay, so the blurb gives away the fact that Tate has to fight off General Dagon, who is trying to stay immortal by taking over the minds (and thus the bodies) of young people.  But don’t let the blurb fool you: this book is so much more complex.

I absolutely loved the world-building in Under My Skin.  It combines all of the good elements of YA (a very emotional/personal journey, mature but not overly dry themes) and leaves out all of the trendy terrible elements (a love triangle, a useless best friend, an inability to lie on the part of the main character).  While the science of the mind-transfer is left out in the beginning for obvious reasons, I was very happy that as Tate kept fighting for her life, more of it was revealed.  I like the idea of their whole dystopian world, that the mysterious Guild pays off families to unknowingly sell their children into slavery.  The Guild is pretty exclusive and although some of the rich merchant families are aware of what’s happening, they want in on it too for the chance at immortality.  It’s kind of a sick cycle when you think about it.

I love Tate almost as much as I hate her name.  She’s not a very strong character in the beginning, however.  She’s very self-conscious of the scar she has from the doctor fixing her cleft palate as a baby and that makes her have very low self-esteem.  It’s one of the vulnerabilities General Dagon exploits as he fights to control her body and I love the whole self-esteem journey she goes through.  And my favourite part is that it’s at an organic pace.  She doesn’t just suddenly gain the willpower to fight him; she fights a little bit in the beginning and her determination grows as her self-esteem does.  Whether or not it’s enough to actually beat the ruthless Dagon is another question, however.

The plot is actually quite fast-paced considering that this is largely a character-driven novel.  There’s of course the conflict with a society that steals the bodies of teenagers but the conflict is largely between Dagon and Tate.  Yes, there is some romance, but it’s not the forefront of the novel all of the time.  I’ve read so many books with contrived romance lately, that I really couldn’t stand it if Shawntelle Madison did the same thing.  Thank goodness she didn’t!  Instead, the focus is actually the main character and her struggle for her life.  As it should be.

Although the plot ends on a pretty big cliffhanger, I was still quite satisfied with where Shawntelle Madison chose to leave off.  It fulfilled the main conflict of the story but also introduced the secondary conflict as the centerpiece for the next book in the Immortality Strain series.  I can’t wait for the second book!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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