A Skinful of Shadows, by Frances Hardinge

img_1041Opening a new Hardinge is like coming home. Not that the different worlds she conjures up in each novel look much alike – quite the contrary, her glorious, seemingly boundless imagination allows her to weave unique, striking universes each time. But reading her always means basking in lush prose and bonding with fierce brave heroines. So you always step up in her novels with glee and anticipation, confident that you will soon feel this familiar awe and delight sparked by well written stories.

And A Skinful of Shadows does not disappoint.  Here is the blurb, my review follows.

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.

“And now, Mr. Crowe, who had seemed the key to finding her father, had only led her to another grave.”

The atmosphere here is dark and troubled, marked by political unrest, uncertainty and danger. The novel is set in the seventieth century England, just before the civil wars, and the political and geographical maps are carefully drawn.

There was also something like grief, but it was not the sorrow of a living man. It was the grief of the cliff that remains after a landslide.”

But there is more to that.  You can almost hear the ghosts whisper in your ears, clawing at your soul, trying to find their way in. Makepeace’s quest for freedom is full of twists and turns and I was kept on edge. You share her fear as she flees the horrendous fate her father’s family plans for her. But she does not only flee, she fights back, and puts all her energy in the battle to save what is important to her. As the war erupts around her, she must find where her true allegiance lies. And she has to face ennemies whose unwavering certainty she cannot understand, ennemies who are confident that their rights are more important that hers, that their aims are so noble they can crush all the lives it will take to achieve them.

“Another rich man bent on what he thinks the world owes him, and willing to pay any price, as long as it’s in the blood of others.”

So you cannot help but feel for this young girl, however uncanny her abilities are, however different the times she lives in sound. You see the world through her eyes and well, you care. You care, and follow her with a beating heart, fearing that she will lose her own soul on the way.

“They had left a dusting of their memories, like the ashes of singed moths, and for the moment, it flavoured everything she saw.”

And travelling with her, you also learn about the treacherous appeal of power, the weight of inheritance, and how it is possible to transcend oneself against the odds. I found this novel gripping and immersive. Dark and creepy but also full of bravery, friendship and hope, delivered, again in an exquisite (albeit less sophisticated than in other Hardinge novels) language. I enjoyed every moment of it.

“In that first clumsy embrace, they had tangled themselves hopelessly.”

A Skinful of Shadows, published by Macmillan Children’s books, available here.

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