A Skinful of Shadows. Frances Hardinge

This review is based on having seen only an extract of the novel, via NetGalley and Pan Macmillan who allowed me to read a free excerpt.

I don’t know how I can wait to read this YA/children’s book! I am a huge admirer of Frances Hardinge’s writing, although I think she has yet to equal her stunning debut novel Fly by Night: Mosca Mye and Saracen have to be two of the very best characters in children’s fiction, and Fly by Night is less dark than Hardinge’s other novels. I wonder whether A Skinful of Shadows can reach those heights?

Set in a small town called Poplar immediately before the English Civil War, this book is about a girl called Makepeace. We learn that she is fatherless, meaning that she and her hard, cold mother Margaret Lightfoot have no secure position in society. Makepeace is aware of the dead, and of their attempts to claw their way into her head. As her mother explains: ‘The dead are like drowners. They are flailing in darkness, trying to grab whatever they can. They may not mean to harm you, but they will, if you let them.’

This novel excerpt is quintessential Hardinge: incredibly imaginative with elements of horror, darkness and light, the supernatural and the fantastic, with a hatred of (organised, repressive) religion, and featuring a hard fight to grow up and be true to oneself. Yet to list these themes is to miss the beauty in the writing and the sureness of touch that together make for compulsive reading. The darkness never overwhelms and the victory of light makes for a very satisfying read – I am sure that this will be the case in A Skinful of Shadows too.

UK publication date: 21 September 2017.

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