A Skinful of Shadows
by Frances Hardinge
Genre: Paranormal/history fiction
Publication Date: October 17, 2017
Bang Bang Review
Makepeace lives with her mother in a Puritan town in the mid 17th century London. Makepeace has terrifying dreams and to remedy her strange affliction, her mother makes her sleep in graveyards but when Makepeace gets fed up and stands up to her mother, her mother is shot and killed by the rebellion. Makepeace is sent to live with her father’s wealthy family, the Fellmottes, but she soon finds out there is something strange about this family.
Once again we have a Hardinge story featuring a twelve year old girl and publishers want to categorize this book as middle grade/young adult. Middle schoolers will ABSOLUTELY NOT be able to get through this book because it is INCREDIBLY dense and slow-moving. Now, onto the review.
I don’t like historical fiction and didn’t know Skinful took place during the British Civil War of 1641 but as I Wikipediaed it, it’s actually a little relevant to our current political climate. England was a divided nation where citizens either sided with the king or with parliament and it ended in a war where parliament won. It’s not the main focus of Skinful but be ready for political intrigue.
Unbeknownst to Makepeace, she inherited the ability to house the souls of the dead and she slowly realizes this after the soul of a dead bear enters her body where she often loses control. While this is initially unsettling for Makepeace, she uses the bear’s strength and abilities to her advantage. When she enters the Grizehayes, the home of the Fellmottes, she notices something strange about her family and when she realizes their peculiarity she and her half brother try to escape. I won’t say what it is because you’ll have to read it to find out but I will admit it’s something I’ve never read before. Suffice it to say, Makepeace goes on a journey to save her half brother from the Fellmottes and that’s all I’ll say.
Hardinge has a penchant for writing strong female characters-young and old. Much like Makepeace, all the other women in Skinful, including the villains, were independent, led rebellions, and fought to have a voice in 17th century England. One major trope that Hardinge avoids is the novice-who-suddenly-knows-more-than-everyone-and-saves-the-day. Makepeace is twelve when the novel begins and is fourteen during the meat of the story and of course she prevails in the end but she receives a lot of help from the souls inhabiting her body-that was refreshing. As seen in all of Hardinge’s books, the paranormal slant in Skinful was original and engaging.
I’ve read four Hardinge books including Cuckoo Song; The Lie Tree; A Face Like Glass; and Skinful of Shadows and the latter have something in common-it’s hard for me to rate them. The writing is beautiful and you can tell that Hardinge is very thoughtful when writing. By chance, I looked up the definitions of Fellmotte and Grizehayes and of course they have meanings so I can conclude that there is a lot going on under the surface which is fantastic writing. However, similar to her other books, Hardinge’s books are so dense and sometimes convoluted that it makes it difficult to enjoy them. Skinful was not convoluted like Face but it dragged in the middle. I wanted Makepeace to get to the end already but there were so many obstacles that by the end, I stopped caring and I hate that! I want to care! I was fine until about 75% into the book then Makepeace picked up another soul and I was just over it and it affected my enjoyment.
With that being said, I have to rate the book mostly on the FANTASTIC writing because it outweighed the saggy middle. I just wish Hardinge could write another beautiful book that wasn’t convoluted and moved along like The Lie Tree.