Sometimes, when a person dies, their spirit goes looking for somewhere to hide. Some people have space within them, perfect for hiding. 12-year-old Makepeace has learned to defend herself from the ghosts which try to possess her, but one day a dreadful event causes her to drop her guard. And now there’s a spirit inside her. The spirit is brutish and strong, and it may be her only defence when she is sent to live with her father’s rich and powerful ancestors. There is talk of civil war, and they need people like her to protect their dark and terrible family secret.

Frances Hardinge had a lot to live up to following the success of her last book, the Costa Award-winning The Lie Tree. A Skinful of Shadows is written in much the same vein, with a protagonist whose weaknesses become her strengths throughout the course of a fun, frightening adventure. Like The Lie Tree, this novel is also YA, which means that some readers will find it too young for them. But the strength of the writing means that most of the time you wouldn’t realise you’re reading a book aimed at children and teenagers.

Makepeace is a wonderful protagonist, strong-willed and determined but vulnerable and frightened nonetheless. However, I did have a problem with some of the secondary characters populating the book. Many feel like a brief sketch and aren’t properly fleshed out. They are cast as goodies or baddies with little explored of the grey area between the two, which would have made for a far more interesting read.

The book is saved by the strong concept at its core, which is written with creepy delight and convincing detail. There are certain people who can see ghosts and even offer a safe receptacle for terrified ghosts parted too soon from their bodies. Such ghosts don’t need to be invited in; they can claw their way inside your mind and, once there, can easily ransack thoughts and memories. It’s a terrifying idea, and one that Hardinge carries out with aplomb.

The suspense is kept up from the first page to the last. Hardinge creates a fantastic sense of dread which keeps you hooked even through the slower moments of the story. Fear abounds on every page as we wonder what threat Makepeace will have to face next.

Despite its flaws, this is a book well worth reading, not least for the strength and courage of its heroine. I’m fast discovering that what Hardinge does best is create young female protagonists who are both fierce and flawed, and place these relatable characters into extraordinary situations.

Many thanks to Macmillan for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.