A Skinful of Shadows

Review From User :

Frances Hardinge's latest offering certainly didn't disappoint, in fact, she may just be one of my new favourite authors. Her writing is so original, innovative and different, I don't know where she gets all her ideas from but I'm praying she never runs out. This novel blends historical fiction with the supernatural, and the pair get along famously. The central character is Makepeace, a girl who grew up in a Puritan community in the years leading up to the English Civil War in the 1640s. After the death of her mother, she is taken in by her formerly estranged father's family, the Fellmottes. She soon discovers that the members of this ancient, aristocratic family have the ability to capture, and be used as a vessel for, spirits, and that maybe there was more behind her mother's decision to hide Makepeace from them than she realised. Before she even has a chance to understand her gift, Makepeace is inhabited by the violent spirit of a murdered circus bear, who she henceforth has to share her head-space with, and, although it may sound ridiculous, Hardinge managed to develop their initial animosity toward each other into a genuine, and quite moving, friendship. The Fellmottes are quickly revealed to have sinister plans in store for Makepeace and her abilities, and her bear becomes her faithful guardian and the only one in the world she can trust.

Makepeace has the trademark of all Hardinge's heroines; she's resourceful, curious and recognises her differences as her greatest strengths. The narrative is incredibly absorbing and while the plot is driven by the feud between Makepeace and the Fellmottes over her supernatural abilities, there are still numerous references to the historical context and, more than anything, it is the brutality of the Civil War that really sets the tone of the story. Hardinge ultimately seems to have a rather scathing assessment of both sides in the conflict, with characters like Livewell, the disillusioned Puritan, and Symond, the Royalist who becomes a Parliamentarian simply to be free of his duties as a Fellmotte, illustrating that no side had the monopoly on righteous ideology and each was spouting their own version of 'fake news'.

Hardinge creates such a richly enchanting atmosphere and brings the terror of the Fellmottes and the violence of the Civil War to life so vividly that I was barely able to put this book down. A very memorable read.


This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .
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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.”

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