I bid farewell to 2017 by watching the Australian show Cleverman (all about an indigenous superhero fighting for an oppressed people) and reading Frances Hardinge’s latest book A Skinful of Shadows. It’s about a girl with the ability to carry ghosts inside her, and the aristocratic family that wants to use her as a storage facility for a whole passel of hostile ancestors. Every time Makepeace tries to escape, the Fellmotte family drags her back again — until their involvement in the English Civil War gives her the leverage that might gain her her freedom. She is also possessed by the ghost of an angry bear. Rawr.
I will freely admit that it has taken me some time (and the evangelism of numerous bloggers) to come around to Frances Hardinge. Like Diana Wynne Jones, Hardinge writes books that start slow and meander for a while before they come to what appears to be the main plot. Like Diana Wynne Jones, Hardinge writes books that are full of weirdness — though Hardinge’s weirdness has a creepy and ashen quality, whereas DWJ’s tended to feel more sunny.
Perhaps most DWJ-ish of all, Hardinge writes books full of protagonists who know themselves imperfectly. What they think they want and who they think they are change as the book goes on, and they come to a fuller understanding of their past and present selves. Makepeace is on a journey to find freedom for herself and her brother, but much of that journey takes place entirely within herself.
(Metaphorically. I mean, she’s also doing cross-country travel a lot of the time. Road trip with ghosts!)
Even more than in past books, Hardinge has packed A Skinful of Shadows with needle-sharp insights, some of which genuinely rocked me back as I was reading.
Children are little priests of their parents, watching their every gesture and expression for signs of their divine will.
and (said of Charles I)
It was as if History were walking at his heels like a vast, invisible hound. It followed him, but he did not command it. Perhaps he would tame it. Or perhaps it would eat him.
One of my favorite things is to witness an author developing her powers over the course of several successive books. If Hardinge’s recent work is anything to go by, she’s on a steep climb with no summit in sight.