RogerBW's Blog

A Skinful of Shadows, Frances Hardinge 06 December 2017

2017 fantasy. Makepeace has a gift, or curse, that she doesn't entirely understand. But she's going to have to learn about it fast, in part because it's 1641 and the tension between Parliament and the King is coming to a head.

This book contains what I think may be the most typically Hardinge line that I've read in any of her books:

I really hope, murmured the doctor, that there is a second half to your plan.

A new Hardinge is a treat, and it certainly helps that she's still getting better. Where some of her books set in the more-or-less real world have got off to a slow start before reaching the good stuff, this one soon throws Makepeace into a series of increasingly dire situations, underequipped with knowledge of what's going on both in the mundane world and in the supernatural one.

There are truly vile villains, but they have reasons for their villainy. There are sides, and factions within those sides, but as often in Hardinge the really important distinction is not what colour your sash is but whether you can still remember that other people are human beings first.

So this was the world in all its tomfoolery. Armies might clash, multitudes might die, but both sides agreed that the King must be able to wash his socks.

That feeds into Harding's depiction of the English Civil War, of course, something that in school-history in my day had a distressing tendency to be reduced to Good Guys and Bad Guys. Here all sides have their fanatics and their reasonable people, and of course the ones who were reasonable people but have been given a taste of power over others and found that they like it.

The fear and outrage in Poplar was very real, but Makepeace sensed an undercurrent of fierce excitement as well. If everything did fall apart, if a time of trials did come, if the world did end, the godly of Poplar would be ready. They were Christian soldiers, ready to withstand, and preach, and march.

I'm deliberately not going into details about the plot because I think it's worth discovering as you go. Don't read the blurb. Don't read other reviews that might give it away. If well-written historical/magical fiction is at all your sort of thing, just read the book.

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