••• The International Writers Magazine: Review
A Skinfull of Shadows by Frances Hardinge
Macmillan (21 Sept. 2017)
Sam Hawksmoor review
a wonderful fantasy about a girl, a bear,
ghosts and the English Civil War
If there is a dictionary definition of quirky it should read Frances Hardinge. An award winning author for 'The Lie Tree' (which is way too complex to explain here) she has once again given us something that confuddles and beguiles - and no matter how many impossibilities it piles on top of one another - drives the reader on hoping that the possessed heroine will be alright in the end.
Set in the English Civil War, young Puritan, Makepeace, illigitimate daughter of the aritocratic Felmottes, is tragically severed from her mother who dies in a riot trying to find her. Somewhere in all of this she encounters a cruelly mistreated circus bear that dies from its injuries. Moments before it dies the bears spirit enters Makepeace. It is not a comfortable feeling to have an angry bear inside you but it is there and Makepeace has to live with it. She eventually ends up as a kitchen maid at the ancestral home Grizehayes where she sleeps with the dogs under the table. (The bear is deathly afraid of dogs but she manages to keep him calm somehow). Makespeace discovers that she has a half-brother James and there is a reason a bear lodges beside her soul. The Felmottes have an ability to swallow the dying spirits of previous Felmottes and Makepeace and James are there as intended vessels to hold Felmotte spirits in case of emergencies. The family do not know about the bear and this will be her salvation.
Meanwhile all is changing in England as the King challenges Parliament and battle lines are drawn. Makepeace's story is all about betrayals and learning to survive on her wits. At some point the family decide she could be useful and she is schooled in reading and some social graces which might come in handy if ever her plans to escape with James ever come off. Everytime they flee that are found - even when it should be impossible.
Makespeace is a wonderful heroine with a great generous spirit and will to survive. You will never will read another Civil War novel like it and that's all to the good. Beautifully crafted, crazy plotting and magnificent eccentric characters make this a vastly entertaining read.
© Sam Hawksmoor - July 2018
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