Tina Connolly,
(Tor, 2012)

The Great War blasted Jane Eliot's life apart, just as the fey blasted her cheek with their curse. Now she is ironskin, forced to cover her face with an iron mask to keep others safe. When Mr. Rochart advertises for a governess to care for a girl in a "delicate situation," Jane knows she can help this fellow victim. Yet, a lot more greets Jane at her new position than a difficult child. Jane finds there are more curses than she knows, and learns about masks more burdensome than iron.

The framework of Jane Eyre brings this novel a natural sinking point for the reader to dive in and let themselves go. We already know the basis for this romance, for these main characters' traits, so we are free to splash through the vivid colors of the war with the fey, the steampunk world details and the new barriers that this Jane faces right away. Knowing the strengths to expect from this Jane could have been disastrous if she didn't match up, but the fact that she so resoundingly does makes the story of what this Jane remembers and how she chooses that much more endearing than if she'd had no one to live up to.

Similarly, knowing we will eventually reach certain turning points in the story makes the building parts more purely intriguing rather than tense. Jane's charge, Dorie, plays a much larger role in this book and we learn a lot through interacting with her. Jane's dynamic with Mr. Rochart leans heavily on audience foreknowledge for the romance, but he allows us to see new angles of this Jane and how she sees herself. Jane Eliot's identity rests between visions of herself where she has various levels of opportunity, personal connections and beauty. Exploring the ties between these things among all her characters, Connolly pulls on chords familiar to us all while grounding her fantastic society.

The new details and mysteries swirling through this world keep the pace swift as we long to know not just what will happen next but what has already happened. Each character in here is Connolly's own and indelibly set within this strange world, so even those who can't bear the thought of an impure Jane Eyre should be able to read it without flinching. The prose engages and surrounds with firm moments and beautiful imagery. The only issue I had was that the ending is rushed. After such lovely delving and swooping through this gothic tale I was suddenly crashed right through the center of things, with no opportunity to get my bearings or start to breathe again. It lacks that last chapter, where loose ends are tied up and you can feel the satisfaction of knowing how things have turned out. I still have some questions that I doubt the sequel, from Helen's point of view, will answer. Basically, I needed more! And I still do, so I'm relieved there is a sequel. I loved reading Ironskin.

[ visit the author's website ]

book review by
Whitney Mallenby

28 December 2013

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