Goodreads: A Skinful of Shadows
Publication Date: 2017
Twelve-year-old Makepeace should have listened to her mother. She should have known that returning to her father’s family would be a mistake. Now, her life is at stake. And the only way to save it may be by claiming her terrible birthright–and allowing a ghost inside her.
Frances Hardinge is one of the best YA fantasy authors writing today. She avoids the common YA tropes to write highly original stories that typically have just a twist of the supernatural or the creepy. And her prose is beautiful, effortless, sometimes speaking truths that hit the heart. A Skinful of Shadows exemplifies all the best qualities of Hardinge’s work, bringing the readers a story that feels breathlessly new.
Hardinge excels at creating unlikely protagonists, ones who are not perfect or pretty or special–but who still capture the sympathy of the readers. At first glance, Makepeace may seem scarcely likable. She has a troubled relationship with her mother, makes mistakes with devastating consequences, and quickly learns that her greatest skill is her ability to make herself ugly and invisible. Makepeace is no charmer; she is a survivalist. But her story rings true because what she wants is something readers can appreciate–the chance to live freely. It does not matter if she lacks charisma or beauty. Makepeace is a person. And that is enough to afford her sympathy and respect.
Hardinge sets Makepeace’s story against an intriguing historical background–the English Civil War. Sides are being chosen in the fight between Charles I and Parliament and Makepeace is trapped in the middle of it all, historically unimportant as she is. It is not a setting chosen often for historical fiction (or, in this case, historical fantasy), and that makes it all the more compelling. But Hardinge goes farther, once again giving her story a novel twist by refraining both from providing historical info dumps and from having Makepeace meet any real historical figures. The story feels no need to shout that it is historical fantasy. It simply uses the setting as a background and allows the story to unfold naturally, showing how an everyday person might be affected (or not) by great events.
A Skinful of Shadows is a wonderfully complex, wonderfully original tale focusing a bold and clever heroine and an overlooked historical time period. Fantasy fans looking for something a little different will enjoy this story.