Title: A Skinful of Shadows
Author: Frances Hardinge
Genre: Young Adult, Teen, Horror, Historical Setting
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
While interesting and original this young adult horror story had a bit of an identity crisis as it tried to marry its horror story with historical war.
A Skinful of Shadows starts out very solid as we learn about our lead gals odd ghost 'issues'. Her Mother that appears cruel and the Aunt and Uncle who have no interest in her sets our lead gal up as a neglected, alone and forgotten soul. Not unlike some ghost/spirits might be.
And without a doubt Frances Hardinge is a superb writer. She sets excellent scenes and can create a creep factor without being gory or over the top. But...
Historical + Horror
There's no real reason A Skinful of Shadows needed to have an identity crisis. Set during the English civil war, our horror story is the focus, but certainly our characters are affected by the battle events around them. Which was all well and good until our lead gal ends up caught up in a scheme that will benefit one side of the war. While it gets our characters away from certain situations this interlude of smuggling, spies, infantry movements and battlement sieges is just dull. Instead of having an engaging reason to care, and partially because our lead gal doesn't care who wins, I just couldn't bring myself to feel any passion about the war or whose side wins or losses.
If you're hoping for information about the civil war setting this is the absolute wrong book as the majority of the information is fictional.
While there are many ghost/spirit haunting stories, and there may even be some in which the spirits haunt live bodies, A Skinful of Shadows still stood out for me as an unique and compelling story. The added touch of a dynasty family with great political and financial power helped put our characters front and centre to many situations we may not have encountered otherwise. This use of a non-noble but high ranking household is brilliant by Hardinge. And while servants, like our main gal, embroiled in high family affairs is not a new setting, Hardinge takes it to a whole new level by defining a servant as something more than a pushy kitchen girl and instead she is a rare commodity that the main family cannot afford to lose.
Perhaps it's very sad and pathetic of me but the use of a bear spirit in this kept reminding me of Disney's Brave. Don't get me wrong I adored our bear and his ferocious, often confused and yet protective role in our story. But each time a bear spirit was referenced all I saw was our lead girl dressed up as Meredith. This was distracting for me. And so I think a different animal might have been a better choice. A cougar could easily have played the same role and maybe helped distance the small similarities to Brave bear spirit.
This was my first Hardinge book. I have more a couple more of hers on my shelf for the future and I'm definitely excited to read them. While I give this a 3.5 stars it's a solid 3.5. Assuming you can push through the dragging war bound middle of the novel then I believe most will enjoy Hardinge's creepy and (mostly) compelling ghost story.
Please note: I received an eARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. This is an honest and unbiased review.