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A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
Genre: YA, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Supernatural
Summary:
"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."

This book was my ~spooky~ read for the month of October and I'm glad I chose it because A Skinful of Shadows was a delight to read. There are ghosts, family secrets, espionage, and...bears? Oh, my!

A Skinful of Shadows tells Makepeace’s journey of survival as a young woman who can carry ghosts within her. She eventually finds herself a prisoner in her father’s ancestral home of Castle Fellmote in the English countryside. While she plots her escape, a terrible civil war rages around her that might just be the key to her survival. 

I was doubtful I would like Makepeace as a heroine. In the beginning, she’s stubborn, naive, and impulsive. However, as her story progresses, she slowly transforms into a headstrong, compassionate, and wise heroine. I absolutely loved seeing her grow into the character she becomes at the end of the novel.

I also greatly enjoyed the ghosts or “shadows” that inhabit Makepeace. Makepeace’s relationships and interactions with the shadows are some of my favorite moments in the book.   Hardinge does an excellent job incorporating supernatural elements into a historical setting and still making it feel believable. As someone who loves history, I’m glad Hardinge established the setting of the story during the First English Civil War. My knowledge of English history is very limited but I enjoyed comparing the events in the book to actual historical events.  

I really enjoyed the writing in this book. It reads strongly like a Gothic novel, which is right up my alley. The writing is simple yet evocative. Each word feels carefully chosen and each sentence is precisely crafted to create a wonderful dreary atmosphere.

Now, this book is not fast-paced. There are a couple of action scenes (especially near the end of the novel) that I couldn’t stop reading, but generally this is a slow read. It really focuses on Makepeace and her growth from a scared, little girl to a brave, confident young lady. And if you don’t like Makepeace, then you’d have a real hard time reading this book. Younger readers will love Makepeace from the get-go but older readers might have a more difficult time (as I did). 

I also wished Hardinge added more depth to the supporting cast. There are definitely a couple characters that I’d love to get to know more. 

I would’ve given A Skinful Of Shadows a strong four stars, if not for the slow pacing of this book and the lack of depth of the supporting characters. Otherwise I loved the atmosphere, writing, and of course, Makepeace and her collection of shadows.  

My rating: ★★★☆☆


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