A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge – Book Review

Blurb from Goodreads

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide.

Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding. Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard.

And now there’s a spirit inside her.

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.

My Review

“There was a little girl lost in the woods, who was chased by a wolf. She ran and ran until her feet were torn, but she knew that the wolf had her scent and was still coming after her. In the end she had to make a choice. She could keep on running and hiding and running forever, or she could stop and sharpen a stick to defend herself. What do you think was the right decision, Makepeace?

Makepeace could tell that this was not just a story, and that the answer mattered a great deal.

‘Can you fight a wolf with a stick?’ Makepeace asked doubtfully. ‘A stick gives you a chance.’

Her mother gave a slight, sad smile. ‘A small chance. But it is dangerous to stop running.’

Makepeace thought for a long time. ‘Wolves are faster than people,’ she said at last. ‘Even if she ran and ran, it would still catch her and eat her. She needs a sharp stick.’

Mother nodded slowly. She said nothing more, and did not finish her story. Makepeace’s blood ran cold. Mother was like this sometimes. Conversations became riddles with traps in them, and your answers had consequences.”

I loved the blurb from this book. It sounded like nothing I had read before and I was enchanted by the notion of this bear-hearted girl living among ghosts. It had a very appealing magical realism vibe to it. And the book certainly delivered on that aspect. But something stopped me from truly feeling this story. I frequently felt weary from rather than engaged with the writing style. And I’m not quite sure why. In many respects I think it’s a case of me not being the right reader. Although it’s nothing like this book, I was frequently reminded of my experience reading Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale because of the style of writing. Both styles are very beautiful in how very detailed they are regarding the fantastical backgrounds of the books but simply are not to my taste.

I wasn’t a fan of the motivation that the main character Makepeace had for the majority of the storyline that supposedly dove the plot forward i.e. regarding the rescue of her brother James. I didn’t feel a true connection between the siblings before his seeming betrayal of Makepeace so her desire to rescue him against all the odds just sat kind of awkwardly with me. I think this was because there was too much of a time jump between Makepeace’s arrival at Grizehayes and time leading up to the disappearance/escape of James (27 months time difference between chapters 9 and 10) so as a reader I couldn’t fully experience the scope of their sibling relationship

None of the characters feel particularly memorable to me but mostly I think this is a case of a book not being from my preferred genre (I frequently struggle with fantasy) and I would recommend this to anyone who loves old ghost stories mixed with historical fiction.

So sadly for me this felt like an exercise in focus and concentration and my desire to see how things all worked out in the end.

A disappointed two and a half stars

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17 thoughts on “A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge – Book Review

    1. That cover is why I bought this book…plus the lady in the bookshop told me this was her favourite author. We had a great chat at the time… sad that it didn’t turn out to be a book I loved. I can see the potential and how it might be to other people’s tastes but just wasn’t for me

      Liked by 1 person

  1. What a shame that this ended up being so disappointing, especially with a blurb as unique as that one! Plus that cover is also really gorgeous! Never heard of this author before though. Great review as always, Emer!

    Liked by 1 person

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