A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardynge reviewed by Philip Womack
Perhaps in response to the Puritan elements in the story, Hardinge’s language in this novel is less elaborate than it has been, resulting in a cleaner, sharper diction. There are many wonderful moments that have the unmistakable Hardinge tang. Makepeace accidentally absorbs the ghost of a bear, symbolising both the uncontrollable id that she must subdue and the violence threatening to tear apart the country in “surprising zigzags”. She develops a deep rapport with her beastly fellow traveller, but often it’s “like reasoning with a thundercloud”.
The pull of the story is towards subversion, and Makepeace ends by reappropriating her inherited gifts, and using them not to provide a vessel for antiquated mores, but to succour the weak and the dispossessed. This is a wonderful, resonant narrative whose subtlety and insight will challenge, entertain and enchant.