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 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.
This blurb came from the author’s website here.
E: I eyeballed the cover and blurb a few times thinking it sounded intriguing, so I went ahead and asked Has if she minded doing a joint review. She agreed so I went ahead, requested and read Ironskin. When I finished reading it, Has asked what I thought and I said I wasn’t sure yet. She asked if it was like the original and I asked her what the original was. Then I mentioned that it reminded me of a retelling of Jane Eyre that I read several years ago. She proceeded to inform me that Jane Eyre was the original. So while I haven’t read all of the classics I was able to pick up on the theme. If I had known it was a retelling of Jane Eyre I might not have requested it because I still don’t know what I think/feel about the first retelling that I read. I have no complaints with the writing, imagery or anything like that. I just don’t know how I feel about the story.
Has: I knew it was a retelling with a fey twist and I don’t mind them especially since Jane Eyre is one of my favourite classic stories, and I think Mr Rochester is one of the ultimate archetype romantic heroes. But I was definitely intrigued by Ironskin’s premise and I have to say it was definitely one of the most unique fantasy books I’ve read in a long while. And while it did have a lot of elements shared by Jane Eyre, the one major factor I actually found disappointing was the romance. There wasn’t enough time spent establishing it, and it was just so sudden that I had difficulties in believing in it.
However, the world-building and the imagination in setting it up was lush, original and vivid. I adored the author’s take of the fey as incorporeal beings at war with humans, and I especially loved the period setting which feels like post WW1. It was so rich and vibrant and atmospheric.
E: Looking at what Has said above, maybe my issue was with the romance aspect. I really enjoyed the world-building and the reminder that the fey aren’t traditionally nice, good and kind to humans. The forbidden forest, the blue light packs, iron as both a shield, curse, and barrier, and the clay caricatures were truly fascinating. I also liked how very different Dorie was and the combination of tolerance and resignation the rest of the household had for her. We got to see one of the other species that exists in this world and happened to be present in the household. I wonder if the rest of the household has their individual secrets given that attitude towards Dorie. As new things were revealed, I continued to eagerly go to the next page wondering what would happen next, but I never gave much thought to the romance. In fact I viewed this as fantasy for much of the story.
Has: I totally agree with you about the feel and tone of the book. This was more about the world-building, and the magic surrounding it. The aftermath of a great war where people are still adjusting with the fey cursed survivors, restructuring technology to human run electrical and fossil fuels instead of fey run stood out beautifully to me. But despite my disappointment of the romance, the real love story I think in the book was between Jane and Dorie, her charge. Dorie has her own fey curse, although unlike others who are scarred and their gifts contains and emits negative and violent emotions, Dorie’s own gift is unique and different but is wild and uncontrollable. She is also lost in her own world, and I loved how Jane slowly breaks into that and brings her out of it. And when she realises that they both share a lot of things in common by accepting their fey curses/abilities, that is where their relationship really cemented for me as the predominant one in the book.
I just wished there was a lot more set-up with the romance, and how and why Jane and Edward fall in love, because it was so muddled and vague. I really didn’t see any chemistry at all between them. This was a shame because the other elements in this book was memorable and rich with detail.
E: I did find it fascinating that the curses had such a variety in both placement and the emitted feeling. To me it was those same feelings that were predominately displayed in the caricatures of the visiting women which I found very interesting given some of what is revealed towards the end of the book. Like Has, I thought the relationships between Jane and the rest of the household were far more fascinating then her relationship with Edward. I could understand her concern when he would vanish into the forest, or close himself up for days on end because he was her employer, but I didn’t see anything beyond that.
The other question I had regarded Jane’s sister and her “plastic surgery”. It was mentioned that Edward was the best at this so I was very surprised they didn’t try to leverage the “family connection”. Of course this does add to the potential for increased problems in future books regarding the side effects of the surgery and how so many of the prominent women have received it.
Has: 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 of that despite my disappointment about the romance. The scenes with “plastic surgery” and masks were beyond eerie and disconcerting, and I found myself actually being a bit squicked out when the truth was unveiled literally and figuratively about Edward’s secret and his subsequent actions. But it was also eerily beautiful and the imagery those scenes portray are still vivid in my mind.
I also think the ending, and the repercussions of Jane and Edward’s actions and the overall plan of the Fey is going to step up a notch and I am definitely looking forward to see how this plays out, and I really hope we get some real development with the romance.
E: Like I said earlier I enjoyed the world-building and my sense of wondering what was going to happen next. I had serious issues with the romance because I never bought into their chemistry. In that respect I think my ignorance of Ironskin’s inspiration served me well because I enjoyed the fantasy aspects without looking for romance until it became obvious that one should have been growing. I really loved the implications of both the curses and the plastic surgery. I do not think that the human-fey war is over regardless of what treaties have been signed. It is going to be fascinating to see how that little issue is solved in future books. The fantasy and world-building worked for me but the romance didn’t and since that was included towards the end my enjoyment faltered.
I give Ironskin a C.
Has: Overall, Ironskin, is a wonderful and terrifying beautiful tale of the fey and I loved how the themes of beauty is explored in such a unique way. Although I have mixed feelings about the book, because while it is modelled after such a classic romance which Ironskin fails to do so. It does convey an original and memorable twist on Jane Eyre although I think in some ways surpasses the gothic and atmospheric tone by offering such a fantastic world which was both memorable and vibrant. I really ate up the world-building because it was so imaginative and for me this was real highlight of the book along with the relationship that Jane shares with Dorie.
I give Ironskin a C+