Ironskin by Tina Connolly
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I’m not sure what it is about the classic novel Jane Eyre that lends itself to re-tellings, but Ironskin is not the first one that I’ve seen. Something about the Gothic setting, the mystery, and the dark romance translates well into the fantastical setting. Ironskin marries the original novel with the myths and tales of Faerie to create a highly entertaining and engrossing story.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“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 Edward Rochart. But her blossoming crush is stifled by her 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.”
Oh, Ironskin, how many ways do I love thee? Quite a few, actually. I’m a fan of the original novel, and I’ve re-visited it often over the course of time. One of the first things that struck me about Connolly’s novel was how she took Mr. Rochester’s repeated comments about how Jane must be one of the fairy folk and turned it into a literal reality for her story. Here, Jane is indeed fairy-touched and fighting for control of the magical injuries that scarred her face. The nature of the injuries plays into the other idea that Jane considers herself to be “plain” and unexceptional—in this novel, Jane hides her face with a mask instead of with a meek manner.
Every character in this book has their own draw for the reader, but my favorite by far was Dorie. Instead of having to un-learn coquettish French manners as her counterpart does, Dorie must learn to act in ways that humans can comprehend. And as you can imagine, there are consequences to suppressing the girl’s essential nature.
In this, both the original and Ironskin have a lot to say to about acceptance: Dorie accepting the necessity of sometimes fitting in with “normal” humans; Jane accepting that Dorie’s uniqueness is part of her very self; Jane accepting what happened during the War; Rochart accepting Dorie as a unique child instead of as a problem. It’s a theme that is woven through every bit of this book.
I wouldn’t call this story a straight re-telling of Jane Eyre; rather, it takes a lot of inspiration from the classic tale and uses it as the framework for an atmospheric and brooding novel. It’s not confined by the source material but instead feels free to branch off and take its themes in new directions. For me, that’s the hallmark of a good re-imagining. I want to see both homage and creativity, and it’s a rare novel that can find that delicate balance. This one does the job admirably.
I blew through this novel, and in so doing, I was blown away. What a complex and detailed re-imagining of a Gothic classic! Ironskin is definitely one of the best fantasies that I’ve read this year, full of completely unique ideas and images, and it knocks the storytelling out of the park.
Also by this author: Copperhead
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on November 8, 2012.