Unraveller by Frances Hardinge

Posted On 20 October 2022

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My Five Word TL:DR Review : Oh What a Tangled Web


Yet again Frances Hardinge continues to astonish me with her phenomenal imagination.  What a creative talent she is. Okay, I confess, this is an author who I’m really enjoying at the moment and I don’t know whether that makes me ridiculously biased or simply determined to enjoy her books but I do enjoy them so I’m not going to question the whys and wherefores too deeply..  Her writing is just packed with everything I love and this is no exception.

What an unusual tale this one is and very thought provoking to boot. I mean, in one respect, I can see why this would appear to be a book aimed at MG/YA, given the ages of the povs and the quest like style of storytelling, but then this is chock full of fascinating world building, fairytale themes that definitely border the dark side and some curse working that is downright nasty in parts so I have no qualms whatsoever in recommending it.  For me this is a book that crosses boundaries and is definitely a story that you can say to yourself at the conclusion ‘and the moral of the story was…’  but, I’m not going to tell you that because self discovery is so much more enjoyable.  Anyway, to the review.

This is a book grounded in a world of curses. Anyone can become a curser at some point in their life and these curses can be terrible in nature.  Kellen and Nettle’s travels have a dual purpose, they help in finding those who have been cursed and in trying to discover the way to unravel the damage done they more often than not uncover the curser.  Based on the idea of ‘once a curser always a curser’, the penalty for wielding this magic is imprisonment – although it doesn’t necessarily follow that the offender will commit more crimes.  You see, these curses are usually based on hatred or revenge, carried out in a form of retaliation for harms either real or perceived.   Now we have Kellen who, quite uniquely, can unravel the curses.  As you may imagine he is almost loved and hated in equal measure and in a world where hatred leads to curses Kellen and Nettle both become embroiled in a race against the clock to uncover a ‘conspiracy of cursers’.

I won’t say any more but instead talk of the aspects of this that I really enjoyed.  So, put the kettle on, grab a cup of tea or coffee and have a seat – because I may ramble.

Take it as a given that I loved the writing and the ideas that Hardinge comes up with.  This will put you in mind of countless fairytales and yet at the same time feel totally unique and it’s this ability to make you reminisce that delivers an overwhelmingly enjoyable sense of nostalgia and whimsy.

The characters. You might not love them all but you have a number to choose from here. Nettle was probably my favourite together with her brother -who I won’t discuss further as I think you need to discover her family’s backstory during the read.  Kellen can come across as a little, mmm, prickly.  A bit hotheaded who tends to rush in and let his mouth run away with him and Nettle kind of grounds him.  But to be fair, he’s a strong character and I thought the friendship between the two was fundamental to the story. Then we have Gall.  This is a guy that’s struck a deal (with the devil or otherwise is for you to discover). He wears an eye patch and rides a Marsh horse – not something a regular human can do.  These are fearsome beasts that form a strong bond and if that bond is severed are as likely to eat you as not.  Not an immediately likeable character but he kind of grows on you.

Now, speaking of Marsh horses is a lovely way to look at the larger world at play.  This is set in a place known as the Wilds.  What a fascinating place this is.  Populated with remote villages that are unreachable due to monsters. The most wonderful and magical markets you can think of – I mean, I would love to go to one of these but at the same time I know instinctively that I would put my foot in it and end up in servitude to some sort of hideous creature.  It’s quite literally a feast for the eyes though.

In terms of criticisms.  Not a lot here to be honest.  I think my biggest problem is waiting for this author’s next book but at least I have the option to backtrack and pick up some of her earlier works.

Also, I had the audio version of this and I thought the narration was fantastic.  I was listening to this whilst doing some rather boring decorating and it completely transported me – the walls seemed to paint themselves in fact, so perhaps this author really can perform magic. I think my only regret is that the writing is so lovely I kind of missed reading the written word for this one – does that even make sense?

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 of 5 stars


Can’t Wait Wednesday : Unraveller by Frances Hardinge


“Waiting On Wednesday” is a weekly meme that was originally created by Breaking the Spine.  Unfortunately Breaking the Spine are no longer hosting so I’m now linking my posts up to Wishful Endings Can’t Wait Wednesday. Don’t forget to stop over, link up and check out what books everyone else is waiting for.  If you want to take part, basically, every Wednesday, we highlight a book that we’re really looking forward to.  This week my book is: Unraveller by Frances Hardinge.  


A dark YA fantasy about learning to use your power and finding peace, from award-winning author Frances Hardinge

In a world where anyone can create a life-destroying curse, only one person has the power to unravel them.

Kellen does not fully understand his talent, but helps those transformed maliciously—including Nettle. Recovered from entrapment in bird form, she is now his constant companion and closest ally.

But Kellen has also been cursed, and unless he and Nettle can remove his curse, Kellen is in danger of unravelling everything—and everyone—around him .

Expected publication : October 2022

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

Friday Face Off : ‘The sea brought you.  The sea shall have you back’


Here we are again with the Friday Face Off meme created by Books by Proxy .  This is a great opportunity to feature some of your favourite book covers.  The rules are fairly simple each week, following a predetermined theme (list below) choose a book (this doesn’t have to be a book that you’ve read), compare a couple of the different covers available for that particular book and choose your favourite.   Future week’s themes are listed below – if you have a cover in mind that you’re really wanting to share then feel free to leave a comment about a future suggested theme.  I’ve also listed events that take place during the year, that I’m aware of, so you can link up your covers – if you’re aware of any events that you think I should include then give me a shout.  This week’s theme:

Tentacles – ‘The sea brought you.  The sea shall have you back

I was so happy this week to find another fairly recent read for this week’s theme.  And, not only is this a new(ish) read, it’s a new to me author and a book that I really enjoyed that definitely made me want to go and check this author’s backlist (in fact I bought the Lie Tree on the strength of this read and I’m really looking forward to picking it up).  This week my book is Deeplight by Frances Hardinge – which was great and my review is here.  Only three covers this week – which doesn’t make choosing a favourite any easier because I like them all.  Feast your eyes on the lovelies:

I like all three to be honest so let’s take a closer look:


This cover is just fantastic.  I love all the little details that once you zoom in become even more evident, such as the little submarine at the bottom of the cover, and the way they’ve made that central item look like a heart – or a shell.


This cover, at first glance feels very similar to the first.  It has an abundance of little details that are a lot of fun to zoom into and see how they relate to the story.  I love the colourful jellyfish with a boat tangled up in it’s tentacles and I think the font is excellent.


Another beauty.  Look at the gorgeous and vibrant colours coupled with this unusual heart shape (that resembles a pin cushion) nestled in the middle of some rather murderous looking tentacles.  Plus I just adore the almost luminous green font.

I actually can’t choose a favourite.  This is a great book and it has been blessed with three amazing covers.  Do you have a favourite?

I’ll be updating the list in order to include forthcoming events that I’m aware of so that you can perhaps link your themes up where possible (if you know of an event you’d like to share then let me know in the comments).  As always, if you wish to submit an idea then leave me a comment – or if you’d like to host a week then simply let me know.

Next week – Tunnel – ‘At the end of every light, is a tunnel of darkness.’

Future themes: (if you’re struggling with any of these themes then use a ‘freebie’ or one of your favourite covers) (I’ve added some new themes – some of these are slightly different, in order to avoid too much repetition I’m trying to make the themes more of a suggestion that everyone can interpret how they like.  


10th July – Tunnel – ‘At the end of every light, is a tunnel of darkness.’

17th July – holding an object – just as it seems

24th July – Framed – more meanings than one.  A cover with a frame, a picture within a cover or a murder mystery set up??

31st July – White – a cover that is predominantly white

7th August – Action – a cover that depicts action of some sort

14th August – Glasses or spectacles – “One could mention many lovable traits in Smee. For instance, after killing, it was his spectacles he wiped instead of his weapon.”

21st August – Potions –  hubble bubble

28th August – Dark road – ‘the road goes ever on and on’

4th September – Cold and crisp – any cover that gives you winter vibes

11th September – A cover with a pattern

18th September – Minimalistic and lacking clutter

25th September – A very busy cover full to bursting with detail

2nd October – A standout font

9th October – Mist/fog – “A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England.”

16th October – Spider web – “Farewell, Aragog, king of the arachnids, whose long and faithful friendship those who knew you would never forget!

23th October – Ripped/torn – interpret it as you wish

30th October – Forest/jungle – ‘None of the Jungle People like being disturbed.’

6th November – Planets – “You’re on Earth. There’s no cure for that.”

13th November – Bright – ‘The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades’.

20th November – Words only – “Words are pale shadows of forgotten names. As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts.”

27th November – Modern sci fi

4th December –  Fae – or fairy??

11th December – Lake – the mysterious lake

18th December – Highly Stylised

25th December- Freebie – or day off.

Deeplight by Frances Hardinge

Posted On 10 February 2020

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DeeplightDeeplight by Frances Hardinge has to be one of the most impressive YA fantasies that I’ve read for a long time.  Imagine a world terrorised by Gods that rule the Undersea, massive monsters that are a strange combination of different elements that ultimately feed on fear.  Then imagine that these Gods annihilate each other in some strange cataclysmic event driven by the desire to be …  well, I can’t tell you more about that without sailing into the land of spoilers.  And, yes, this review is going to be chock full of cheesy, nautical and fishy references and overflowing with gushy good humour.  I don’t know where Frances Hardinge has been hiding all this time but I’ve found her now and I’ll be picking up plenty more of her books.  Also, take a minute to look at that cover.  I loved it when I first laid eyes on it but now I’ve read the book I’m able to see all the beautiful and relevant details and it’s even more stunning.

So, Myriad is an archipelago of small islands that, since the demise of the Gods, is thriving.  No longer held hostage by the whims or mercy of ruthless underwater creatures the people can sail further abroad to trade goods and with the abundance of Godware available since the cataclysm business is booming and tourists flock to the area for glimpses of godlike treasure.  With this in mind we start the story with an introduction to Hark, a young boy who makes his living off aforementioned tourists, conning them into parting with their cash.  Hark’s longest known and best friend is Jelt.  Jelt is a little more ambitious than Hark and likes to think of himself as something of a player.  Unfortunately, his latest scheme to ingratiate himself with the local pirates goes pear shaped and Hark finds himself left high and dry taking the blame for the entire operation.

I’m not going to elaborate further on the plot. What I particularly liked about this is it went in a direction I really hadn’t anticipated and that I thoroughly enjoyed.

So, the good, the good and the good?

Well, the worldbuilding is excellent and the bonus is you’re barely aware of it, it’s so inextricably linked with the overall story.  No exposition, no info dumps, no history assignments, everything feels like it’s naturally delivered as the plot progresses and I just love this.  It’s so immersive.

Then the characters.  Let’s be clear, Jelt is an absolute jerk – in fact that was how I started to read his name he got on my last nerve so much.  He is such an abusive character but Hark had too much attachment to him, this wealth of history that they shared and the protection Jelt offered Hark when they were young lonely orphans.  I just wanted to punch Jelt and shake Hark!  There is also Selphin.  I loved her character.  Like Hark and Jelt, she isn’t perfect, she makes mistakes and does things she regrets but she’s a great addition to the story.  Selphin almost died in a sea incident and although she survived the underwater experience left her death.  In fact being ‘sea kissed’ is common for Island people who deep sea dive and is considered with a sort of reverence by the Myriad people, in fact most of the people on the island learn how to sign as the norm.  This brought such an interesting aspect to the story that I loved.  It was seamlessly worked in but at the same time it made you sit up and take note.

The plot is probably the weakest aspect of Deeplight, not that it’s weak, more that the world building, the characters, the creativity at play here, the wonderful writing, well, the plot almost played second fiddle in a way – it is a good story though, don’t get the wrong impression from my ramblings.

In terms of criticisms.  I don’t really have anything, maybe a slight slowing down of pace at certain points but nothing that was really noticeable.  I was totally hooked.

To summarise.  Unusual and fearsome Gods, smugglers, crazy scientists, monks who no longer have a vocation, lots of tentacle waving and underwater scenes that really do come alive on the page.  A beautifully written, highly creative and evocative story, at its core a coming of age tale about two boys who have outgrown each other but also a story that shines a light on fear or uncertainty – better the devil you know?

I received a copy through Netgalley, courtesy of the publisher, for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

My rating 4.5 stars


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