Ironskin, Book 1
Author: Tina Connolly
Publisher: Tor Books
Publication Date: October 2, 2012
Source: Tor via NetGalley
Description from Goodreads:
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.
First Sentence: "The moor was grey, battlefield grey."
An alternate history set in the era around WWI plus paranormal elements? Umm, yes! At least, that's my first thought, though The Sweetest Dark made me cautious, as it totally failed the wonderful premise. Ironskin has those things plus Jane Eyre. Be still my heart, I think I'm in love. Of course, these things can be a let down, not coming close to living up to possibility. Not this one, though. Ironskin is masterfully crafted, a truly impressive retelling with a sublimely unique paranormal twist.
As a retelling, I found Ironskin incredibly powerful. Though there are many things that are quite different from Jane Eyre, even some of the major, integral moments, the story and the characters maintain the precise feel and mood that I've always felt on readings of Jane Eyre. I do find it curious, though, that Connolly apparently didn't originally think this was a retelling at all. Or so Unabridged Chick said. Assuming that's true, and I don't think Audra would lie to me, I wonder whether the story was changed greatly by an editor who saw possibility or if the author just did not see the influence.
Jane Eliot has much in common with Jane Eyre, though they are not one hundred percent the same. Both are intelligent, artistic, snarky and unimpressed with high society. And, like her classic counterpart, Jane Eliot does not care for her visage. Not only is she plain, but she also wears Ironskin, a mask of iron which keeps the fairy curse of rage on her cheek from leaking out and infecting others. This mask marks her as damaged, lesser, cursed.
You see, in this world, WWI was fought against the fey. Though the fey lack physical bodies, they had the power to infect humans and then take over the bodies when the person was killed. Yup, they basically made themselves into a zombie army. They created bombs that would curse people to this fate. Those that survived wear iron over the infected area, like Jane does, to prevent the leaking of whatever terrible emotion they bear. The fey are weak only to iron, thus the iron for dampening. This whole conflict is so completely mind-bogglingly cool that I just can't even.
The humans won WWI, but they struggle now, having grown used to using fey technology for pretty much everything: lights, cars, etc. Now, without the fey, they have to start back over from scratch. There remains a deep-seated fear of the fey, of their possible return, and a mistrust of the ironskin. Also, this right here is totally how you make a statement about something without being preachy. Connolly totally used this as a metaphor for first world countries getting everything from overseas, and it's so much more effective than the book I'm reading now that just tells you this and that are bad.
Back to Jane. Her sister, Helen (a change!), has gotten engaged and Jane, unwilling to sit around and live off her brother-in-law's kindness, finds herself a position at Silver Birch Hall as a governess. Immediately, the oddness of Silver Birch Hall becomes apparent. Mr. Rochart has an odd sense of humor and is oft-absent and the servants are strange. The Hall itself is half-destroyed, wreckage from the war unfixed. Weirdest of all, though, is Dorie, Edward Rochart's daughter. She has a touch of the fey, to such an extent that she can move things with her mind. This would likely see her killed were it known, which is why Mr. Rochart has trouble finding non-kooky servants and why he needs a governess. Jane's job is to try to convince Dorie to act normally, to use her hands, clumsy and awkward though they are from disuse, rather than her fey talents.
While most of Ironskin feels like Jane Eyre, deliciously moody and mysterious, Connolly adds some straight up horror. There's a scene at the end that literally makes me twitch to think about. I wish I could say more about that, because it is so COOL and GROSS and AHHHH, but I will leave you to be horrified when you read this yourselves.
Much as I completely adored the writing and the storyline, I never really connected with the characters. They were well done, in that they fit the retelling perfectly, but I just didn't get particularly caught up in them. Jane was the only one I really cared about, and, though I suppose I like this guy better than Rochester, it's not by much. The one character I really did not like was Helen. She completely lacked depth, and just didn't feel right, since Jane supposedly loves her so. I didn't get any of that affection spilling over to me at all. This wasn't a huge drawback, since everything else kept me highly engaged, but kept the book from being perfect for me.
Ironskin has a gorgeous, somewhat creepy, cover and I can tell you right now that it perfectly matches the book's contents. Jane does even wear a dress like that at one point in the book. I am so excited to find out what the next book will be like! Go forth and procure this book, you lovely fans of gothic and retellings, for it is not a trap.
Favorite Quote: "But if she did not belong there, did she belong at Silver Birch Hall? At least she was needed there. Perhaps she would never be comfortable anywhere; perhaps she had not that gift."