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Ironskin

February 11, 2013

At Quirky Bookworm, I read about a version of Jane Eyre with fairy magic in the woods instead of a madwoman in the attic and was intrigued, and then I won a copy of Ironskin, a new YA novel by Tina Connolly. When I finally got around to reading it, I  found it pleasant enough, as it’s filled with obvious affection for the original and does not contort itself unduly by attempting to parallel each event.

Helen, in this version of the story, is Jane’s sister, alive and well (although with a fictional pall hanging over her life from the fate of Bronte’s Helen and some events that are unexplained until the end). At one point, when Helen asks what Jane remembers about their childhood, Jane thinks:
“Jane had seen the terrible conditions at the Norwood School, and that had just been as a teacher. If both her parents had died when Jane was eleven, she and Helen might have ended up as charity pupils at a school just like that, cold and hungry and at the mercy of typhus or polio. She could scarcely imagine how that Jane would have turned out—equally scarred, perhaps, equally angry.”
Jane has been scarred in a battle with the fey, and she wears an iron mask so that her curse—rage—does not spill out and affect everyone around her.

She goes to work as a governess for Mr. Rochart’s ward Dorie–whose mother died of a fey curse shortly before Dorie was born—so Dorie can move things without touching them, and Jane’s job is to teach her to use her hands like a human, lest she be ostracized by the current human horror of anything fey, after the war in which Jane herself was scarred. It’s an interesting set-up, and many of the details are delightful, especially about the books in this world:
A Child’s Vase of Cursing Verses was a classic nursery book: rhymes and stories about dealing with the other—mostly the fey, but a few of the stories were about dwarves, dragons, and other creatures. Even before the war, Jane had been fascinated by the way the book ranged from utterly real and practical advice—how to avoid the copperhead hydra—to things that were surely just tales—who, after all, had ever seen a giant?”

Mr. Rochart does have a secret, and it’s not just Dorie. One of the fashionable ladies says to Jane that it is “hard to entrust yourself and all your money to a man who everyone knows has a damaged child locked in an attic.” There is more to it, though, and it has to do with Jane’s revelation about the effect of the iron on the cursed humans:
“She and Dorie, encased in iron, bound by it, enclosed by it. A sarcophagus, an iron maiden—the ironskin not armor but an airtight coffin.” Everyone in this society is wearing a mask. Oh yes, it’s a great revelation, and a somewhat dry ironic turn for a YA novel. You can’t fault this one for not being audacious. Kind of like, well, the character of Jane Eyre herself.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 11, 2013 8:41 am

    This sounds VERY awesome. Will have to check the library.

  2. February 11, 2013 9:55 am

    Your review makes the book sound more delightful than your initial opinion of it. I don’t know what to think now, Jeanne.

    • February 11, 2013 10:24 am

      Hmm. It might be that when I go over the high points, my enthusiasm ratchets up.
      I think mostly it’s that (as I said back when I was reading more literary sequels) “I find a little time in sequel-land goes a long way.” http://necromancyneverpays.blogspot.com/2009/01/they-all-get-eaten-by-dinosaurs.html
      Also it’s that this is Young Adult fiction. As my kids get older, I find my interest in YA waning a bit because I’m neither in its intended audience nor an over-reader with much stake in the ideas and problems of the age group.

  3. February 11, 2013 7:25 pm

    I don’t know if it’s having had a previous bad experience with a Jane Eyre retelling, or my massive affection for the original, or some combination of both, but I’ve never been the least bit drawn to any book that retells Jane Eyre. Rebecca is about as close to a Jane Eyre homage as I’m willing to go. (Rebecca is very good.)

    • February 11, 2013 7:35 pm

      I like a good Bronte re-telling every now and then. On the night my first child was born, I sat on the couch from midnight until 3 am reading a re-telling of Wuthering Heights from Heathcliff’s point of view. It got me to the point where, when I got to the hospital, that baby was ready to be born.

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