A horror story about ghosts and the English Civil War.
A Skinful Of Shadows is the story of Makepeace, who lives with her mother at her aunt’s place in a Puritan congregation, without knowing who or where her father is. In her sleep, Makepeace is haunted by ghosts – to “sharpen her stick”, her mother makes her sleep alone at the cemetary (yes, this is as creepy as it sounds). After a string of unfortunate events, Makepeace’s mother dies, and Makepeace is carted off to live with her father’s relatives, the Fellmottes at Grizehayes. She soon learns that this place is as creepy, mysterious, and dangerous as her mother had warned her in her last moments, but escaping proves near impossible. Makepeace also learns that the Fellmottes possess the gift of housing ghosts in their bodies and that they will do almost anything to keep this a secret and to keep their ancestors “alive”. Her only ally in the Fellmotte household is James, who turns out to be her half-brother, but who might not be as trustworthy as he seems at first. The story is set against the English Civil War, and, while Makepeace travels through the land, we get a good impression of what that time might have been like (minus the ghosts, maybe).
I might not have picked up this book were it not for the other two books by Frances Hardinge that I read in the past year: The Lie Tree and A Face Like Glass, which I both absolutely loved. For me, A Skinful of Shadows is the weakest of the three. Although the story is as imaginative and weird as the other ones, it didn’t manage to draw me in as much. Makepeace and James never really became believable or relatable characters and their motivations remained utterly unclear. There’s an unchallenged notion of family duty in the book that, especially towards the end, I found rather irritating. Makepeace’s only motivation to save James – who twice betrays her rather viciously – seems to be that he is her brother – and in that, she is not so different from the rest Fellmotte clan.
Weirdly enough, the book had an ending that had a similar to the one of A Face Like Glass. Without wanting to give any spoilers for either of the books: Hardinge seems to have an inclination towards sugar-coated endings after tales filled with horrors and mystery.
A Skinful Of Shadows is a children’s book, as are Frances Hardinge’s other books, but they are also some of the most imaginative, creative, and mesmerizing books I’ve read in a long time. And while A Skinful Of Shadows might not have impressed me as much as the other two I’ve read by Hardinge, on its own, it’s still a very good book.
Title: A Skinful Of Shadows Author: Frances Hardinge First published: 2017