Title: A Skinful of Shadows
Author: Frances Hardinge
Page Count: 442
I picked this book up for a buddy read with Anthony Andrews, a friend of mine from BookTube. He’s been away for a couple of months and dropped me an email to ask if I’d be interested in a buddy read. He sent over maybe three or four titles, and one of them happened to be this one. I jumped at the opportunity because I read and enjoyed The Lie Tree not too long ago and so I’ve been meaning to get to more of Hardinge’s books.
Hardinge is interesting because she writes a quirky mixture of magical realism and historical fiction, and you could also classify her work as YA, although I’d argue that it’s approachable to everyone. There’s something about her stuff that reminds me of Philip Pullman’s Sally Lockheart and His Dark Materials books, and arguably here so even more than in The Lie Tree, even though The Lie Tree was set in Victorian England while this one takes place during the English Civil War.
The war itself acts as an excellent background to the story, and in fact I wonder if it feels so cohesive because of how seamlessly historical fact is blended with fantasy elements, most notably the fact that people’s ghosts can leave their bodies and then find themselves a new “vessel”. Our protagonist essentially has the ability to act as a host, but she finds herself living with a family that basically only wants her to dump her mind out of her body and take over.
This led to one of my favourite scenes in the novel, in which Makepeace is being cleaned in a bath (that she’s terrified of) and being checked over for sores and for other signs of illness. They want to make sure that their host’s body is in prime condition for when they move into it.
Makepeace herself is an interesting character, and she goes through a huge amount of development between the start and end. Born to a Puritan family (hence the name), she ends up playing the part of a soothsayer before being accused of being a witch. At the beginning, she’s just a frightened little girl. At the end, she’s a fricken badass.
All in all then, this was beautifully written and highly engaging from start to finish, and after two successes in a row, I’m feeling pretty good about Frances Hardinge. She’s not there yet, but she’s also not far off. She’s also relatively young, or at least younger than I would have thought!