A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
From Goodreads: This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .
Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.
Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.
Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.
And now there’s a spirit inside her.
The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.
But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.
For some reason, this book has been sitting on my shelf for many months now. Though I bought it waaaaay back in October, it’s just been there, gathering dust since then. I keep putting it on my TBR pile and then get swamped by a load of Netgalley books and new releases instead. And I think, deep down, for some reason I was actually putting off reading A Skinful of Shadows. I’m not sure why. I quite like Frances Hardinge’s books. Two years ago, I read The Lie Tree and loved it. But this one? I bought it and then did that thing where I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to read it or not. Post-YALC, all my friends have been talking about how awesome ASFOS is. It’s taken over 9 months, but I was finally ready to read it.
It did take some time to get into. Something about fantasy set in a historical period just doesn’t grab me, and as soon as I realized there were Puritans and Stuarts I lost a bit of interest and struggled to find it again, at least for the first few chapters. Again, I’m not certain why. It was quite interesting seeing how Makepeace’s mother was considered ‘witchy’ and kept talking about spirits and ghosts, but yeah the whole background of the English Civil War just didn’t do it for me. At least at first. After a while I got into the not-so contemporary dialogue and settings and started coasting through it.
I do have to say that ASFOS offers up what might be one of the most unique YA stories I’ve read in some time. It has a certain kind of bizarre humour to it, that weirdly reminds me a bit of The One-Hundred Year Old Man… novel. A lot of things happen to Makepeace and she gets to converse with a lot of people and something about the way they talk just seems funny to me, especially when they get to squabbling. Beyond this though, the plot is packed with tension and lots of danger, and it’s fair to say that the creepy atmosphere of gothic haunted houses and graveyards did make me question if I wanted to sleep with the light out. Hardinge has this glorious way with words; she is a master of creating suspense. There are moments when more could be going on and the pace flags a bit, but overall the interesting and unique plot kept me determined to read on.
Character-wise, there were some gems in there too. I loved Makepeace and how she struggles with a lot of things that aren’t her fault, but she’s just so compassionate and intelligent that she makes for an utterly compelling protagonist. The Doctor was another favourite of mine, since he spends so much time arguing. Bear doesn’t have any speech, and yet you can still feel his personality through the writing, his determination to survive and protect Makepeace, along with the angry undercurrent of his past which haunts him at every inkling of danger.
Overall, I’d give A Skinful of Shadows an 8.5/10. It took me some time to get into it, but once I did, I loved how the plot was something I’ve never seen before, and the atmosphere was very chilling. Sometimes the pace did get a little too slow for my liking, but in the end I struggled to put this book down.
Has anyone else read A Skinful of Shadows or wants to? What did you think about it? I always love to read your thoughts and opinions on books I review, so please feel free to leave comments in the comment section below 😀