Book Review: A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS by Frances Hardinge

An owl and a hand holding a quill frame the title in white on black
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: Standalone


Book cover for A SKINFUL OF SHADOWS: title in white with an owl above and surrounded by leaves

Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding.

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.

Now she has a spirit inside her. The spirit is wild, angry and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s cruel and powerful ancestors. But as she plans her escape to a country torn apart by civil war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death. 

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


This Frances Hardinge took a little longer to get into than the others, but then was another fabulous adventure, this time set in a fictionalised Civil War England. It also makes this book much easier to classify than some of the others!

I think it took a little longer to get into as Frances Hardinge’s style is to let the setting come out over a few chapters, starting with some not-quite-this-world action. Usually this works really well and sets the unsettled, mysterious tone – and teases out the setting at the same time. The focus on ghosts at the start crowded out the setting and didn’t establish the main plot either. It took quite a few chapters to end up at the Fellmottes’ house and for the central idea to be established.

However, once she’d got there, I raced through the rest of the book.

I loved the setting. I haven’t seen many English Civil War books, which made it stand out, and the tensions of a country at war compounded Makepeace’s dilemmas over which side to give information to, which to help. It also added another level of threat as she travelled, having to pretend to be one side or another depending on her location – all while both sides would love the information she had.

The ghosts living in people was a rather eerie magic system at first, as it was first properly explored through the Fellmottes. Makepeace shares her body with the Bear from very early one, which is portrayed differently to the abilities of the Fellmottes – and the contrast helped show both sides of the idea. I found the conversations later on between residents and the dynamic of Livewell, Morgan, and Quick interesting and even funny at times.

There was a slight cyclic nature to the story, which was very subtle, but well exploited. It particularly made the ending so satisfying as you could see how much Makepeace had grown.

I have a feeling I will be devouring the rest of Frances Hardinge’s books in the coming months!

Read my reviews of other books by Frances Hardinge:

Fly By Night:


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