Monday, October 1, 2012
Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly
Tags: steampunk fantasy, fairies, retelling
Jane Eliot is an Ironskin: she wears an iron mask to cover the fey scar on her cheek, a physical remnant of the recent Great War between fey and humans, in order to prevent her curse from affecting others. Jane takes a job as governess/nanny to the unusual fey-touched child of the artist Edward Rochart. But Rochart is no ordinary artist, for the rich women he lets into his studio come out looking stunningly, inhumanly beautiful.
Jane wants nothing more than to have a normal, unscarred face. But, as she gets more and more entangled in Rochart’s doings, she must learn to see the gift that the fey curse has also given her…especially in the face of an ominous adversity.
IRONSKIN took an…interesting approach to retelling Jane Eyre with fantastical elements. Inconsistent with everything from its plot to its characterization, IRONSKIN will probably be a temporarily intriguing but ultimately forgettable entry in the category of classic retellings.
Readers who love Jane Eyre will probably find fewer things objectionable in IRONSKIN. I, however, was never a fan of the bland heroine, brooding, self-deprecating hero, and the melodramatic secrets unveiled at the end of the story. IRONSKIN actually does quite a good job of sticking to the original and necessary elements of JE. Mr. Rochart channels all of Edward Rochester’s self-deprecating comments and tortured moodiness. Which, you know, if you like that sort of self-pitying thing is all well and good. The setting of the house and the mysterious woods and moor surrounding it are played up and given dark life of their own. Surface-wise, things look good for IRONSKIN to be a great, loyal retelling.
It’s when the fantastical elements are added in that IRONSKIN loses some of its credibility with me. The tricky thing about retellings is that the progression of the characters’ decisions and actions has to make sense independent of the story it’s retelling. This is why superficial retellings of Pride and Prejudice have always bothered me: one can’t just “conveniently” bring up the existence of an impending high school “ball” in order to bring the separated lovers back together, or have one if the characters arbitrarily do something inconsistent to his or her character, just to set them back onto the path of the original story. IRONSKIN suffers from this in some regard too: little happens in the first half of the book besides for Jane struggling to teach Dorie and having cryptic encounters with the moody Mr. Rochart, which means that the book had to make lots of dramatic events happen in order to bring everything to its proper, dramatic conclusion in time. The pacing was clumsy, which resulted in some of the characters’ decisions feeling contrived for the sake of sticking to the original. It really took me out of the story, the constant awareness that IRONSKIN was adhering to the plot of Jane Eyre at its every twist and turn, and kind of smushed the original JE elements and new steampunk fantasy elements together when necessary.
I realize that I talked about a lot of my critiques of this book in my review, but really, IRONSKIN wasn’t a bad read…except for that I was a bit confused about some messages regarding beauty and “normalcy” that this book seemed to be sending. The trajectory of characters’ outcomes seems to suggest that it’s okay for women to base their worth upon their physical looks. Or something. I don’t know. I couldn’t quite put my finger on the implications. IRONSKIN was an interesting steampunk fantasy take on Jane Eyre, but I think I won’t be picking up the next book, because I felt myself skimming, my eyes wandering, too often for me to feel emotionally connected enough to the characters and their story.
Daphne du Maurier
Cover discussion: Stunning, stunning, all those metallic shades of gray and blue and swirlies. I can kind of see Jane being like the cover model, too.
Tor Books / Oct. 2, 2012 / Hardcover / 304pp. / $24.99
e-galley received for review from publisher and NetGalley.