I make no apologies for being a fan of Frances Hardinge, despite being outside the target age range of her novels by a considerable margin. I loved the Lie Tree, and I loved A Skinful of Shadows¸ too, and I really do think that her novels can be read by old and young alike.
When a creature dies, its spirit can go looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space inside them, perfect for hiding.
Makepeace, a courageous girl with a mysterious past, defends herself nightly from the ghosts which try to possess her. Then a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard for a moment.
And now there’s a ghost inside her.
The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, but it may be her only defence in a time of dark suspicion and fear. As the English Civil War erupts, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.
A Skinful of Shadows features Makepeace, the illegitimate daughter of an aristocratic family called the Fellmottes. Whilst illegitimate children may often be hidden away, out of sight and mind, the Fellmottes take Makepeace in as a maid, as she has inherited their talent (or curse, depending on your perspective) for being able to house ghosts inside her. With her half-brother, James, Makepeace notices that there is something unusual about some members of the family, and it doesn’t take long for her to discover their secrets.
I won’t go into the plot any more than this, as it would be so easy to give away too much, but I absolutely loved the idea behind the story and the way that Hardinge uses this throughout the novel. I thought that this was a very neat twist on the classic ghost story, bringing something fresh to the genre. I didn’t find it particularly scary (it is aimed at younger readers, after all) but it is definitely creepy in places and it is dark enough without being bleak. I would have loved this story as a child, and I do as an adult, too.
Makepeace is a fascinating character. She is young, brave, and intelligent, and very easy to cheer on, even though I didn’t always agree with her actions. I came to the conclusion that she is just a nicer person than I am! Despite her age, she shows a lot of courage and determination throughout and she will stand up for what she believes in. She does get a little help along the way from a number of allies (some of them quite surprising!) and I loved that the story went in a different direction to what I was expecting.
A Skinful of Shadows is set at the outset of the English Civil War, and this initially forms a backdrop to the story before Makepeace becomes increasingly caught up in the conflict. The reasons for the war are touched upon lightly, and I liked that Hardinge did not present one side or the other as being “right” – both sides are represented in the novel, giving a rounded view of the conflict.
Combining historical fiction with fantasy and the supernatural, A Skinful of Shadows is a wonderfully entertaining and enjoyable novel for readers of all ages, and I highly recommend it.
A Skinful of Shadows was published in 2017 by Macmillan and is available in paperback now.
Rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐