A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

One of my favourite pre-pandemic activities was visiting my local Kitchener Public Library.

For the last two years (almost to the day as I pen this blog) while COVID-19 raged on in the world, my library visits were brief, almost non-existent. The rest of my family, also being big readers, switched to using their Kobo e-readers to easily access books from the library.

I followed suit. I agreed with my parent’s happy assertions that the Kobo made traveling and reading more books easy. I also agreed that the gentle light of the Kobo meant staying up late to read, in the dark, was now accessible and fun.

I had not realized how much I missed the simple joy of walking through the library. Of holding a book in my hands – a physical book, with crinkling cover and wispy paper. Returning to the library and walking down the shelves reminded me that I was practically raised in a library.

Walking through the library is now on my list as a non-negotiable joy in life.

On my most recent trip to the library, I stumbled across A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge. It’s a Young Adult novel. I would encourage folks of any age to pick up Young Adult novels from time to time. They feature youthful protagonists who can inspire, shift your perspective on the world, and generally bring out the best in an adventure.

Such is the case for this novel, featuring young Makepeace. I related Makepeace’s journey to several compelling writing tropes:

  • Loss of mother and guilt over her death. The death of Makepeace’s mother triggers her adventure, and leaves a mystery for the reader which is explored fully towards the end of the book. In the same way that Harry Potter’s mother’s death marks him for something greater, so too does Makepeace experience this difficult push into the world at large.
  • Collection of supportive friends along the journey, who contribute to her success. The unique part of this story is that as an illegitimate child of the Fellmotte family, Makepeace has the unique hereditary gift to be a vessel for ghosts. Her supportive friends are in her head! Very much like the Hobbit making his steady way towards smaug, Makepeace has helpers and guides to shape her journey. They give her powers in the most unexpected of places, adding mystery to her travels.
  • An ultimate evil, who is overcome at the end. Spoiler alert! Makepeace is reunited with her half-brother at the end of the novel. She is also able to destroy the Fellmotte family, who present the ultimate evil in the book. Defeating them leaves little doubt in the reader’s mind that Makepeace has won her own personal war.

It’s lovely that this book also features historical aspects. It is set in the early part of the English Civil War. The author took care to present historical details that are compelling and relevant to the story. In this way, they don’t weigh down or distract from the plot.

I would recommend checking out this Young Adult novel for a refreshing change. It doesn’t feature a love interest, which in my experience can sometimes muddy the waters of a narrative. Instead there is the love that Makepeace feels for her mother and half-brother as the driving emotional elements of the story.

In the coming weeks I hope to return many times to the library. This same author won the Costa Book award for her novel, The Lie Tree, which I am excited to check out. I would recommend anyone give her writing a try!

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