A Skinful of Shadows

Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows
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A Skinful of Shadows

Frances Hardinge

Frances Hardinge weaves another darkly extraordinary tale in A Skinful of Shadows, her follow-up to the Costa Award-winning novel The Lie Tree.

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.


Set during the start of the English civil War, A Skinful of Shadows tells the story of Makepeace, a girl plagued by nightmares of ghosts tearing her apart, looking for the chance to possess her. Her mother, a cold, tight-lipped woman who chose a puritan village for their home, ‘treats’ these nightmares by telling Makepeace ‘you can only run from the wolves for so long before you need to sharpen a stick’ and forcing her daughter to spend nights locked in a church, in a graveyard full of desperate, clawing spirits.

When an act of rebellion leads to the death of Makepeace’s mother, Makepeace learns she is the illegitimate daughter of aristocrat Lord Fellemotte and is shipped off to the ancestral home of Grizehayes to work as a kitchen girl. Makepeace finds little of comfort at the secretive and cruel Grizehayes, and after James, a slightly older boy who claims to be her brother, tells her what the Elder Fellemottes of the house have in store for them, Makepeace is determined to escape. As the years pass and war heats up, loyalties to the king and the parliament are tested and the Fellemottes are getting desperate. Determined not to be an unconsenting vessel for ancestors she loathes, Makepeace at last escapes Grizehayes and embarks on a journey that sees her become a spy, a prophet, a saviour, an unsung hero – and at last, her own person.

A Skinful of Shadows is simply sublime. Frances Hardinge’s use of language paints vivid pictures, adding depth and bringing the simplest scene or statement to life. The descriptions of the ghosts entering new vessels genuinely made me press my back against my couch, check behind me and pull my feet up. Magnificent, haunting and thoughtful. I loved this book. 14+

Dani Solomon is a children’s and YA specialist at Readings Kids.

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