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.