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Review of A Skinful of Shadows

A Skinful of Shadows
by Frances Hardinge
Middle School, High School    Amulet/Abrams    415 pp.
10/17    978-1-4197-2572-2    $19.99

Hardinge’s (The Lie Tree, rev. 5/16) latest tour de force is set during the reign of King Charles I against the backdrop of the 1600s English Civil War and is, as unlikely as it sounds, something of a mash-up of The Wizard of Oz and Get Out. When the orphan Makepeace is sent to live as a servant in the stronghold of the aristocratic Fellmotte family (she’s an illegitimate relation), she realizes that she shares the family’s ability to house the spirits of the dead — which the Fellmottes use to extend the lives and power of their Elders. Makepeace has already unwittingly absorbed the ghost of a young bear, whose “wild brute” behavior causes her difficulties at first. When her half-brother and only friend James runs away to join the regiment, taking the royal charter that grants permission for the nefarious Fellmotte “traditions” with him, and is then made an unwilling vessel for the Elders, Makepeace sets off to rescue him — and find the charter. On her fraught-with-perils journey, she collects more “passenger” ghost companions, from a doctor to a soldier to a mysterious and seemingly sinister noblewoman. Makepeace is a resourceful, brave, and intelligent protagonist, and readers will root for her and James’s triumph over the Fellmotte ghosts. The visceral immediacy of Hardinge’s prose (at times almost painful in its plethora of sensory details and its bleakness) can sometimes be unsettling, but the prose itself is always original and invigorating: “Lord Fellmotte was not a man. He was an ancient committee. A parliament of deathly rooks in a dying tree.”

From the January/February 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano About Martha V. Parravano

Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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