Monday, 6 August 2018

A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

A Skinful of Shadows was another book I read because it was nominated for a Hugo. Well, a not-a-Hugo YA award that will be handed out at the Hugos, in this case. I get the reasoning for doing it that way, but it is confusing to write about. I picked this up during the last push to get books finished before the voting deadline, and managed to get it done with time to spare.

When it came time to do my rankings, I knew this wouldn't be top of my list. That's not to say it's a bad book - as I've been saying all the way through this process, these are very strong categories, and it's been hard to choose. But while I think this was good, it didn't vault into the realm of great in any one of a number of ways. I just never felt as engrossed as I wanted to, never really sank down into the story.

However, that aside, if you're looking for some good historical YA fiction with nary a focus on romance to be seen, let alone intense insta-love, I could definitely recommend this one. It's good, the main dilemma is strong, the characters and world interesting. It's not quite like anything I've read before, not that I'm well read in this particular genre.

This takes place during the reign of Charles I, just at the start of the English Civil War. Makepeace is raised among Puritans, but her mother never really fit in, and neither did she. There are hints in her early life that her mother is in hiding from something, but her mother is not one to share, nor one to coddle - when Makepeace starts to become aware she can see ghosts, and that ghosts attack her, her mother takes her to the cemetery, over and over, and leaves her there overnight so she can learn how to fend them off.

When she grows up, after a traumatic moment that leaves her motherless, followed by another that gives her an unintentional mind-mate, she finds out what her mother was hiding from, and to be more precise, what she was hiding - Makepeace herself from the family of Makepeace's father, rich lords, the Fellmottes, who want to hold on to power by making alliances with Charles, but are holding on to rather more than that.

Because, as it turns out, the sensitivity to ghosts is an inherited trait, and the Fellmottes have been using it in a manner strikingly similar to the plan of the old people in Being John Malkovich. And in so doing, destroy the hosts they take over - hosts who have to be their descendants, of one sort or another. Which...seems like it would suck? And give the descendants lots of reasons to rebel? Not just the illegitimate ones, the legitimate and totally screwed ones?  And yet, only one does.

From here, it's about Makepeace trying to get and stay away from the Fellmottes, and coping with her newfound and growing power - and her hope to bring down her family of birth so that they can't hurt anyone else, most of all someone she cares for. (Not a romance.)

I can't put my finger on exactly what didn't grab me about this book - and that seems like it would be a feat, wouldn't it? To be able to say exactly why a particular book didn't grab me. There's nothing wrong with it that I can pinpoint, it just never took flight. Still, as it stayed firmly on the ground, at least the ground was unobtrusive and mostly interesting.

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