Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Review: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

by Frances Hardinge
Amulet Books
Upper MG/YA Fantasy
496 pages

OCTOBER 10th, 2017!!!

Frances Hardinge weaves another darkly extraordinary tale in A Skinful of Shadows, her follow up to the Costa Award-winning novel The Lie Tree

'Hardinge is an unusual talent who deserves to be read by children and adults alike'

This is the story of a bear-hearted girl . . .

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

Twelve-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her in the night, desperate for refuge, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard. 

And now there's a spirit inside her. 

The spirit is wild, brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father's rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret. 

But as she plans her escape and heads out into a country torn apart by war, Makepeace must decide which is worse: possession – or death.


I was only given the first chapters of this book and admit that I find it a little difficult to base a review on only a beginning piece of a much larger story.

Makepeace hasn't had the easiest childhood. In attempt to strengthen her against dark forces, her mother forces her to sleep alone in graveyards--a terrifying situation for Makepeace. The day comes when she's sent to live with her father's rich, powerful and mysterious relatives. There, she must hide a bear spirit, which accidentally took home in her heart, from the relatives or face horrible circumstances.

This is a dark story, and the author does an amazing job building up exactly this type of atmosphere. Although never being graphic, the situation borders on brutal and weighs down as if buried under a collapsed stone wall. It's impossible not to feel sorry for Makepeace as she undergoes her mother's efforts to strengthen her, and all along, it's not really clear what her mother is exactly strengthening her against. The negative emotions are raw and hit with just the right among off sting, especially since Makepeace doesn't seem to know how to place what's happening to her really herself.  She's definitely a character that demands sympathy and has the potential to grab the reader and pull at the heart-strings the whole way through. If only her name weren't so unfortunate.

The characters around her draw out strong emotions as well, but in these first chapters, it's by far negative. The mother never instills an ounce of warmth but comes across cold, and Makepeace's relatives make it clear that this isn't going to be a tale of rainbows and happiness. These are characters to hate or, at least, keep a very wary eye on, and these emotions run thick over the pages. In other words, there are tons of things to love in these first pages. Not only are the characters packed full with potential but the writing is a masterful treat.

Despite all of this, these first chapters were muddled. It's not clearly said what Makepeace's mother is strengthening her against, only the circumstances (and blurb) make one assume that it's probably evil spirits of the dead who want to enter Makepeace somehow...or something. But if they want take over her soul, hurt her or whatever is also never spelled out. Makepeace's uniqueness gains more explanation when she enters her father's evil relative's home, but even here, it's never explained said but left to the reader to pull hints and strings together. It was descriptive and did a fantastic job of holding the dismal darkness but it was more like reading in a never breaking fog. Just when there appeared to be a break and what all of this surrounding Makepeace finally was explained (as said, in Chapter 5), the excerpt I was given to read ended.

So what do I make of it?

Hard to say. The emotions and atmosphere are intense and amazing which screams great read, but if the plot and pertinent pieces information continue to be unclear and left as a constant search for hints in a fog --and that for almost 500 pages -- it's definitely a no go for me and won't be an attention grabber for most younger teens, which would be the age group most interested in a 12-year-old character. Still, this could be just the beginning to an amazing read. The first chapters set up the atmosphere amazingly well even if the information isn't clear. If the rest of the plot gets rolling after this and the story unleashes with masterful fury, then this has the potential to be an unforgettable read. But my gut's telling me that this is probably not the case. 500 pages is a hefty read even for young adult audiences and the writing style doesn't suggest clarity will come nor is there really a reason to believe that the pace will pick up soon. So it turns out to be a guessing game--this book could go either way.

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