Jane Eliot wears an iron mask.
It’s the only way to contain the fey curse that scars her cheek. The Great War is five years gone, but its scattered victims remain – the ironskin.
When a carefully worded listing appears for a governess to assist with a “delicate situation” – a child born during the Great War – Jane is certain the child is fey-cursed, and that she can help.
Teaching the unruly Dorie to suppress her curse is hard enough; she certainly didn’t expect to fall for the girl’s father, the enigmatic artist Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her own scars, and by his parade of women. Ugly women, who enter his closed studio…and come out as beautiful as the fey.
Jane knows Rochart cannot love her, just as she knows that she must wear iron for the rest of her life. But what if neither of these things is true? Step by step Jane unlocks the secrets of her new life – and discovers just how far she will go to become whole again.
You can read an excerpt here.
This book is to Jane Eyre what Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey is to Jane Austen – a fantastical retelling that manages to be a story in its own right, even as it pays homage to the original.
And so I found this book to be beguiling. It’s not a perfect read – the story definitely lags a bit in the middle – but the world Connolly has created, weaving mysterious Gothic manors, the razor edge of insanity, deathly fey-magic, the wreckage of a World War and the consequential fraying of the social order, all together creates a wonderful creeping sense of dread and I couldn’t tear my eyes away.
However when it came to the plotting, things weren’t quite as compelling. I did really enjoy Jane herself, for her quiet determination and growing affection for Dorie – and I really liked how the reveals of Jane’s past helped us understand why she’s so determined to fight for Dorie – but the middle section of this book just seemed to get fixated on Jane’s many lessons with Dorie, much to the detriment of the pacing. I did like the mysterious things happening around the corners of those lessons – the glimpses of the manor’s secrets, how Jane gets drawn closer and closer to the dark truth (and I think Connolly did a splendid job putting a magical spin on the secret Rochart aka Rochester is hiding) – but all those fascinating things kept getting subsumed by less interesting events, and so it kind of felt like this book was taking its sweet time getting to the heart of the matter. And so the middle section of this story definitely felt a bit…slow.
But then, then the ending arrived and suddenly The Story Had Arrived – and I really, really liked how this book kind of exploded at the end, with all the reveals and happenings, and it left me very much wanting to see what happens next. And so by the time I read The End, there was more than enough to it all – the world, the magic, the fey, Jane’s family history (I particular loved her relationship with her sister), the web of darkness she gets entangled in – to firmly land this book in my positive column, and bottom line, imperfections aside, I did really enjoy reading this book.
As for the heart of the matter, the romance – well to be honest, Rochart is a hard man to get behind as a love interest, because he’s weak. Now to be fair, Rochester always was a weak character, in his way – in his debauchery, and how he can’t help but try to posses Jane, even knowing it’s wrong – but Rochart is weaker still, in that he largely cannot bring himself to act. There were reasons, good reasons, for his lack of backbone, but without the verve and fire of a man willing to go after what he wants, Rochart lacked some crucial part of being that gave Rochester such magnetism. Worse, there was none of the baiting, the verbal interplay, we so enjoy between Jane Eyre and her Rochester, and frankly I missed it. And yet, as with the original story, I could still see how Jane’s love would be the re-making of Rochart, his saving grace, and how she was rescuing him from himself – and there was something very romantic, if a little twisted, about it all. So in the end, while I didn’t hate the pairing, I wasn’t in love with it either – rather I was just left hoping Rochart would endeavor to deserve Jane.
But still, as a whole, I did really enjoy reading this book. I absolutely adored the world, with its dark secrets and foreboding magic, and I enjoyed Jane very much – and I will definitely be back for the next. So while this book may be an imperfect read, it is still a beguiling one.
Byrt Grade: A-
As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…
Connolly has created a complex and well-drawn world here, and the story is indeed an original and imaginative take on the gothic-fiction tradition…An intriguing and ambitious fantasy tale.
I felt that despite this being a retelling of Jane Eyre, there were elements of Blue-Beard’s myth and Beauty and the Beast and I really liked the combination