A Skinful of Shadows
By Frances Hardinge
YA, Historical Fantasy
Sometimes when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.
Young Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts that 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 defense when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful family. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.
But as she plans to escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession—or death.
You guys, I cannot get enough of Frances Hardinge. After Face like Glass her books are an automatic buy. A Skinful of Shadows is, thus far, my favorite of her books. I absolutely love the dark whimsy and bite of her worlds and characters. It’s like reading the original Grimm Fairytales in all their terrifying glory.
Makepeace is crafty, intuitive, trusting, and wary and is caught on the backfoot in the political game she gets tossed into once she reaches her relatives’ castle. Her partner in crime, James, matches her in wit and skill and—HAPPY DAYS—there is no romantic love plot! James is her best friend and Makepeace moves mountains to help him, but there are no true love confessions at the end. They continue on their way as best friends and it’s LOVELY. I am always here for platonic friend love.
Makepeace does spend the first quarter of the book doing everything she can to keep the spirits out of her, but when times get desperate, she starts looking for allies. The first spirit is a wonderful surprise, so I won’t give that away, but acts as Makepeace’s guardian and confidant and it’s the purest thing ever and I love it.
The other spirits she acquires are varied in their temperaments and skills and not all of them are super welcome at first. There is a great chapter where Makepeace picks up a male doctor’s spirit and they get into a scuffle over who can control Makepeace’s body. It’s rage-inducing and brilliant and I love the way it’s written and handled throughout the rest of the book.
There’s a lot of text and subtext on consent and body autonomy, not just life and death and life after death. This book is packed full of metaphors and just writing about it makes me want to reread it.
I really enjoyed the final battle because it comes down to Women Helping Women and Burn the Patriarchy and Eat the Rich and I stan for all of that. It takes all of Makepeace’s wit and intellect as well as the unique and everyday skills of her skinful of shadows to win the day. The best part about the win is that all these shadows Makepeace has, all these ghosts, they work together, not just to save themselves, but because they respect Makepeace enough as a person that they want to preserve her right to choose which spirits she holds inside her and her body autonomy. That’s probably the biggest reason I like this book.
So while I will always recommend Frances Hardinge, A Skinful of Shadows in particular is a phenomenal read and will do well on any bookshelf.
And learn more about the author: Frances Hardinge