A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

My Five Word TL:DR Review : Loved it.  History and Ghosts

skinfulA Skinful of Shadows is my second Hardinge book and to date this is an author with a 100% track record because both this and Deeplight were excellent.  Without doubt I will be checking out more backlist books from this author and in fact have a copy of The Lie Tree already lined up.

A Skinful of Shadows is an excellent historical story of ghosts and possession set during the turbulent times of the English Civil War.  We make the acquaintance of Makepeace as she is but a child and learning some hard lessons from her mother which usually consist of enduring a night on her own in the local cemetery.  Makepeace’s mother is not the softest of women but she has her reasons and in spite of the harshness has Makepeace’s best interests at heart.

Makepeace and her mother live a quiet life in a small puritan village, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re in hiding as they keep a low profile and Makepeace knows nothing of her own father or other family members however tension is building, as Makepeace gets older she is less inclined to accept her mother’s lack of answers or punishing nighttime spooky training sessions.  The two argue and tragedy follows.  In fairly quick succession Makepeace finds herself alone, still searching for answers and vulnerable and this is when her troubles really begin.

I won’t say more about the story as part of the joy is discovering this strange tale without prior knowledge.

What really worked well for me in no particular order.

Makepeace is a great, sympathetic and easy to like narrator.  She’s clever and flexible, quick witted and generous, both in terms of the way she treats others but also with the information she shares with the reader.  It’s remarkably easy to get on board with her story and in fact I felt myself anxious to return at every opportunity, desperate in fact to see where Makepeace’s unusual story would take me next. In fact characters are something that Hardinge excels at and there is a superb cast here all replete with their own motivations.  One character in particular steals the show  and I wish I could say more but it would be such a spoiler so my lips are sealed.

The story itself is a wonderful combination of history and fantasy and the speculative elements are included with such a deft and subtle hand that the concept comes across as horribly plausible.  Set in turbulent times when the wrong decision could make or break a family’s reputation scheming runs rife, blackmail is not unheard of and ruthless people will be, well, ruthless.

I love the way Hardinge writes.  She is a wonderful storyteller with a way of spinning words that lure you in in the most deceptively easy way.  Here she manages to create tension at the same time as providing a convincing backdrop and she quite simply made me love the characters and care very much what happened to them.

I have to hand it to this author.  I’ve only read two of her books but they were so completely different that it leaves me thinking that Hardinge’s imagination knows no bounds.  What’s also really impressive is that she has a penchant for standalone novels which is such a breath of fresh air.

I bought an audible copy and highly recommend it – the narration was absolutely wonderful

I can’t wait to pick up my next Hardinge novel and I suggest if you enjoy speculative fiction this is an author you should read.

My rating 5 of 5 stars