(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Helen Huntingdon is beautiful—so beautiful she has to wear an iron mask.
Six months ago her sister Jane uncovered a fey plot to take over the city. Too late for Helen, who opted for fey beauty in her face—and now has to cover her face with iron so she won’t be taken over, her personality erased by the bodiless fey.
Not that Helen would mind that some days. Stuck in a marriage with the wealthy and controlling Alistair, she lives at the edges of her life, secretly helping Jane remove the dangerous fey beauty from the wealthy society women who paid for it. But when the chancy procedure turns deadly, Jane goes missing—and is implicated in a murder.
Meanwhile, Alistair’s influential clique Copperhead—whose emblem is the poisonous copperhead hydra—is out to restore humans to their “rightful” place, even to the point of destroying the dwarvven who have always been allies.
Helen is determined to find her missing sister, as well as continue the good fight against the fey. But when that pits her against her own husband—and when she meets an enigmatic young revolutionary—she’s pushed to discover how far she’ll bend society’s rules to do what’s right. It may be more than her beauty at stake. It may be her honor…and her heart.”
When I heard that Connolly would be writing a sequel to Ironskin, I was a little concerned. After all, Ironskin was crafted as a fey-enhanced version of Jane Eyre, and I thought that much of the worldbuilding the author created was done in service of the original inspiration. Admittedly, that worldbuilding went pretty far afield of the Gothic tone and setting, but it did seem to have enough clout on its own to support another story if handled well.
Copperhead, unfortunately, didn’t quite manage to harness the promise of the first novel, at least in a few respects. I think this is due to the story opening up to the wider world, both by setting it in a large city and by focusing more on the political climate of the time. It’s a pretty tall order, having a novel cover Helen’s personal journey, human politics, fey machinations, and commentary on the status of women in Victorian times. Because human politics and the situation with the fey are fairly closely intertwined, when one suffers, so does the other. I didn’t get a good sense of why Parliament was doing what it did, and that’s a large part of what drives the novel’s conflict.
I did, however, like the characters. I missed Jane, Edward and Dorie, but Helen is given the chance to show her strength and resourcefulness in a grounded, believable way. Connolly writes Helen as a woman with hidden depths, a woman with intelligence and power who has had to hide what she is in order to get along in the world. I almost wish that the author hadn’t thrown in a love interest for Helen, because I was far more interested in watching her break away from her husband. At least the author let her do so for her own reasons, and not for pure emotion.
Helen has a good cast of women to play against, both those who are like her and embolden her, and those who are still locked into being what the men believe they ought to be. Of course, it’s those strong women who are the most intriguing, in my opinion. I think it’s because they are brave enough to be who they want to be even though they’re not likely to see any gain from it. They’re not putting on protests or marching for their rights. They’re simply not conforming to societal norms that stifle them, knowing that it’s a risk, and I really admired them.
Ultimately, I did like this book, although I freely admit to liking the first book better. There is definitely a lot to work with in this setting, and Connolly manages the difficult task of creating strong, believable female characters in a time when that wasn’t the accepted way to be. Copperhead succeeds on the strength of those characters, and it’s worth a read to become acquainted with them.
Also by this author: Ironskin