Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

I’ve said it before, and I’ll reiterate: I do not take authors messing with my Jane Eyre lightly. If you are going to attempt to paint a new gloss over something that has already been perfected to my eyes, you’re going to have to bring something completely new to the table. In this regard, I applaud Connolly’s efforts to entwine a fey glamour over the well known Bronte tale, but I can’t say that she pulled off all she hoped to achieve.

Ironskin suffers from a dissonance between Connolly’s desire to adapt Jane Eyre and her desire to write an original fantasy work. The result feels like Connolly’s take on how she would have written Jane Eyre had she gotten first crack at it rather than a reimagining or tribute. Nevertheless, Connolly introduces some interesting ideas and I can’t help but feel that she ultimately did herself a disservice by trying to shoehorn her story into such a well-known mould; she would have done better to eschew comparisons and simply tell her own tale.

Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Jane Eliot is fundamentally different than Jane Eyre. Perhaps, considering our own reactions were we placed in Jane Eyre’s shoes, many of us feel that Jane Eyre should have felt rage at her situation, yet the very fact that she didn’t defines her character. It’s what sets her apart from and above her peers, what gives her the beauty that shines through an ordinary exterior. Where Jane Eliot allows the rage to take root, Jane Eyre lived above it. Where Jane Eliot yearns for normality badly enough to take drastic, disturbing measures to achieve it, Jane Eyre accepted herself with pride and grace if not always with pleasure. This was one of my biggest points of contention with the book, for in the original it is Rochester who needs reminding that Jane is as she is and won’t be changed. In Ironskin, it is Jane herself who succumbs to shallow desires and embraces superficiality. Making the decision a supposedly crucial plot point does nothing to lessen my disappointment in Jane’s decision and underscores the fact that this is not the same Jane I’ve come to love.

Rochert had potential as a reincarnation of Rochester yet, like so many who have tried before, Connolly fails to grasp Rochester’s essential nature. His depiction quite confused me, really. We are told of his internal suffering, but it doesn’t truly play out on the page. Before we learn of his deep, dark secret, I had actually gained the impression that he was in fact a warm man, loving of his daughter and wife both, not doggedly attempting to hold back the defeating force of his past as Rochester was. We are given so little page time with Rochert that he is never fleshed out (never mind the utter lack of chemistry between him and Jane). I rather liked the dimension Connolly added with his somewhat addled composure concerning the fey, but this too is inadequately addressed.

The greatest interpretations of character for me were Dorie and Poule, as Jane must work at her relationship with both much moreso than in the original. Though I never warmed to Dorie (in truth, she freaks me out more than a little), her storyline was one of the few that suggested the story would have been better off told as an original work. Poule also intrigued me, particularly as she and Jane formed something of a team here, so unlike Jane’s wary regard of Poole in the original. I wish we could have learned a bit more about Poule’s heritage, as it was one of several threads of fantasy worldbuilding that offered a promising story yet was not fully explained.

Overall, I couldn’t tell if Connolly truly wanted to retell our beloved story. Aside from the character names and a rough outline of the plot, so few critical elements of the original story remain. The pacing barely reflects that of the original, throwing Jane into her new employ on the first page, rearranging key scenes and completely eliminating the character of St. John. Whether this is meant to be a permanent feature of the series or whether Connolly introduces St. John in the next book remains to be seen. Jane’s background is completely altered, which likely goes far in explaining her drastic personality change. Whereas the unforgiving environments of her aunt’s home and Lowood shaped Jane Eyre into a strong woman determined to resist the scorn thrust upon her lowly station, Jane Eliot’s abrupt reversal of fortune at a later age made her resentful and proud.

Ultimately, Connolly seemed to want to write a fantasy, and Jane and Rochert’s relationship suffered for it. While her take on the bedroom scene is a novel change, it failed to make up for the numerous other iconic interactions that defined both characters in the original, yet that were missing from this novel. Though I was initially intrigued by the mask plotline, this too wound but being merely a grotesque externalization of conflict that distorted the subtle genius of the original.

I was also confused by Connolly’s repeated references to other classic works. Surely Bronte was influenced by those who came before her, yet she allowed those guiding voices to shape her story without stealing heavy-handed elements. Connolly not only mentions tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Tam Lin, but she goes so far as to incorporate threads of these tales into the story, which merely adds to the disjointed feel. It’s a shame, since, divorced from recollections of her predecessor, I rather liked Jane. The fey world Connolly has created seems rather fascinating, but we are given the barest glimpses of it. I’m also not quite sure that this work is best described as steampunk, but that characterization will suffice. Overall, Ironskin had promise, but ambivalence regarding the extent to which this was meant to be a retelling ultimately resulted in a failed execution of interesting ideas.

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Review: Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Where You Hurt the Most demonstrates perfectly the harmony that emotional impact and intimate detail can have in well-done erotica. Brooke’s story is only about fifty pages long, yet she manages to pack a larger punch in few words than many authors I’ve read of late who have failed to make me resonate with their characters after reading an entire series’ worth of interactions.
Brooke’s story can be seen as a modern-day Beauty and the Beast tale, and as in most of the best adaptations, the “Beast” isn’t the only one who needs saving in this story. Adrian is a man seemingly content with his lot in life. He loves his career as an escort, as it allows him to indulge in his favorite activities: sex, connecting with other people, and appreciating the simpler pleasures in life.

Where You Hurt the Most by Anne Brooke

Adrian easily could have come across as shallow, but instead his innate sensitivity and sympathy lift him above the superficial definition that his career could otherwise brand him with. We don’t learn much about Adrian’s past, yet his first-person narration is an honest-enough reflection of his nature that we don’t need to know more than the spare details we’re provided with. In contrast, while we are given a good picture of the traumas and losses that Dan has endured, leading to the disfigurement that now hinders his confidence and happiness, his emotions are a bit harder to read. We see him only through Adrian’s eyes, and since the story is so short, our glimpse isn’t a particularly comprehensive one. Yet in only a few encounters, Brooke made me believe in the relationship that grows between her two characters, even if neither of them can quite account for its cause. This is the type of writing I love, simple and sparse yet used to tenderly convey a connection of spirit that defies logic or explanation.

Because the story is so brief, I hesitate to say more lest I ruin the revelations that lay within. I’ll definitely be checking out more of Brooke’s writing in the future.

 

Meandering Around the Interweb

In my various hours of wandering through book blogs far and wide, I’ve come across some pretty fantastic posts lately, so I thought I would spotlight my favorites. Hopefully I can make this a semi-regular feature, although my laziness will test the bounds of my determination to do so, so stay tuned for now.

While I’m drowning in the tears that can only be brought on by The Reichenbach Fall, perhaps I’ll drink away my sorrows with some of these delightful Sherlock blend teas. I’m particularly curious to try Moriartea.

Heroes and Heartbreakers had some interesting television news this week. Apparently, come fall we will have a new Beauty and the Beast adaptation, this time with an update of the classic 80’s TV show. I can’t help but be rather disappointed with the trailer (and not only because I was an adamant Lana hater during the Smallville years). I’m sorry, but a little facial scar does not a beast make, especially when the monstrous attitude is replaced with a penchant for altruism. From the snippets we get here, it looks like he might become a tad more beastly when he’s in angry mode…but, no, wait- scratch that, he’s still handsome. Oh, well. At least we still have time to hope that the Anne of Green Gables modern update is better. But honestly, I’ll take Megan Follows and Jonathan Crombie any day.

The Piper’s Son happens to be my favorite Melina Marchetta, and Kat Kennedy over at the Cuddlebuggery Book Blog recently wrote a wonderful review that expresses all the reasons I love this book more eloquently than I could. In other Marchetta-related news, according to Goodreads, the fourth book in the Lumatere Chronicles has a name, and it’s…Ferragost. Thoughts? Do you think this the official title, as it doesn’t really fit in with the first three.

There’s some interesting discussion of late about just what dystopian actually means, and how it differs from post-apocalyptic fic.

I’m guaranteed to track down this Princess Bride-inspired wine pack for my next dinner party. And don’t worry, according to the website, the Inconceivable Cab holds no traces of iocane powder.

I can’t help but love reading Amber at Down the Rabbit Hole’s reactions to recently completing her first viewing of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. While I don’t agree with everything in her post about why Buffy and Spike are meant to be, she makes some good points nonetheless. I’m even more interested to hear what she has to say about her foray into the world of Season 8 comics, as I’ve abstained from them myself. Personally, I love how Whedon ended the show, and while I’m somewhat intrigued by what I’ve read of the comic continuation, I’m also too apprehensive to delve in myself.

The world lost a wonderful writer last week. As always, Neil Gaiman’s words regarding the love he held for Ray Bradbury’s work are beautifully poignant and a lovely tribute.

A Spell of Vengeance by D.B. Jackson

I’ve been salivating for D.B. Jackson’s Thieftaker since spotting the gorgeous Chris McGrath cover last year, and was so excited to receive an advance copy from NetGalley. The short story, “A Spell of Vengeance,” written for Tor.com makes me all the more excited to read it this weekend.

Once again, the scientific community has made a discovery that has gone shockingly unremarked-upon by the general populace. Bulgarian archaeologists have uncovered human remains from the Middle Ages with iron stakes protruding from their chests. These skeletons serve as evidence of actual vampire hunting back in the day. Beware, ye squeamish; the link leads to some relatively graphic images.

Jeaniene Frost and Ilona Andrews had a Twitter battle on behalf of their respective heroes, Bones and Curran. I think this speaks for itself.

Lynn Flewelling has written a short story in which Seregil from her Nightrunner series and Bast from Patrick Rothfuss’s Name of the Wind have a cage fight. I’ve never actually read Rothfuss (I know, I’m getting on it), but regardless, my money’s on Seregil every time.

And possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen, Super Mercado has graced the world with Game of Thrones of Muppets. While they’re all super clever and fit in with the real cast surprisingly well, I think I stopped breathing when my eyes landed on Petyr Beakish and Dr. Varys Honeydew.

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created over at The Broke and the Bookish that allows us to list our top ten answers to a different question each week.

This week’s theme is: Top Historical Romance Books

1. When Beauty Tamed the Beast by Eloisa James

The first of many Beauty and the Beast adaptations on my list, James’s take on the classic tale features a cranky protagonist modeled after the television character House.

2. The Proposition by Judith Ivory

Men are rarely the subjects of makeover tales, which makes Ivory’s reverse-Pygmalion adaptation all the more compelling.

3. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase

Another take on Beauty and the Beast, Chase’s novel features some of the most electrifying dialogue between protagonists that I’ve come across in the genre.

4. Married by Morning by Lisa Kleypas

Love-hate relationships are one of my favorite romance tropes, and Kleypas writes the progression of emotions at a perfect tempo. This is the fourth in the Hathaways series, all of which is recommended.

5. Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Another favorite trope is the ugly duckling scenario, which Quinn writes to perfection. This is the fourth in the ever-humorous Bridgertons series.

6. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean

Another book with an imperfect heroine, MacLean’s story also features one of my favorite rake characters. This is the first in the Love by Numbers series.

7. A Matter of Class by Mary Balogh

Providing deceptive depth for its slim page count, you’ll want to read Balogh’s story again from the start after finishing. For fear of giving the secret away, I’ll let you discover the reason on your own.

8. Ravished by Amanda Quick

Another favorite Beauty and the Beast retelling, Quick’s novel features two imperfect leads with great chemistry.

9. The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie by Jennifer Ashley

I’m always intrigued by imperfect male protagonists, yet Ashley is one of the few authors I’ve read who has delivered that imperfection in a mental rather than physical form. It makes for a powerful and impressive read.

10. Yours Until Dawn by Teresa Medeiros

I had to give you one last Beauty and the Beast retelling, and this one has a twist that sets it apart from its peers.

Review: Firelight by Kristen Callihan

As readers might know, I’ve been on a bit of a Beauty and the Beast marathon of late. While this pleases my inner BatB fanatic to no end, it also comes with the unfortunate side effect that I am inevitably bound to draw comparisons among them. In the case of Firelight, the contrast actually works in its favor, for Callihan works with the tale in a way which, while not entirely unique, nevertheless offers a fresh flavor to the classic story.

Firelight is very much an historical paranormal romance. To be honest, at first I was

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

somewhat thrown by how erotic this story is. Only a few pages into the prologue and the characters are already having some decidedly non-innocent reactions to each other. Overall, Callihan does well to keep the romantic tension simmering without going overboard. Miranda and Archer have chemistry in spades, and their interactions were some of the best in the genre I’ve come across recently. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Miranda was no shrinking violet of a beauty. She consistently holds her own, with Archer and with all those who try to cross her, and her strength was a welcome thing to behold in a genre that seems to be replete with wilting wisps of heroines. Unfortunately, that attribute also wound up being one of the things I disliked about the novel, both because I find such headstrong heroines difficult to relate to and because, aside from her superficial beauty, I found little to suggest that she was a reincarnation of the Beauty from the well-known tale. I think perhaps Callihan wished to meld both beauty and beastliness into her female character, yet she fails in her task if she thought to make Miranda part Beast simply by giving her a potentially deadly power.

Though I enjoyed Miranda and Archer’s interactions, the entire novel felt half-done, as if every third chapter had been lost in a mad rush to the printers. Thus, while I wanted to be sold on their romance, I felt there simply wasn’t enough development early on to draw me in. This flaw pained me more so than usual since I could see the potential in this story; had Callihan added an extra hundred pages, I would have been all onboard. This potential bled through to the twist on Archer’s Beastly affliction, which was telegraphed a little too early, yet at least lent an interesting twist to the standard formula.

To be sure, lack of character development early on wasn’t the only fault in this novel. Archer’s disfigurement, while novel, appears somewhat superficial when compared to the moral the original fairy tale attempted to convey. The villain was obvious and drawn in shades of black-and-white, while the resolution was impossibly neat and tidy. Still, I look forward to reading the next in the series and applaud Callihan for offering something new to the Beauty and the Beast retelling mix.

Book Beginnings on Fridays

Book Beginnings on Fridays is a meme hosted at A Few More Pages designed to feature the book you are reading right now by sharing the first few lines of the story.

 This weekend is gonna be busy, but I’m going to try to read Firelight by Kristen

Firelight by Kristen Callihan

Callihan.

“The knowledge that Archer would soon end the life of another cut at his soul with every step he took.”
I’ve heard this is somewhat of an historical paranormal take on Beauty and the Beast, which would make it three in a row for BatB adaptations for me. Hopefully it will offer something new to the mix.
Here’s the summary, taken from Goodreads:
London, 1881
Once the flames are ignited . . .

Miranda Ellis is a woman tormented. Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, she has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

They will burn for eternity . . .
Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Review: Beauty in the Beast by Christine Danse

Perhaps I didn’t read the summary well enough, but Beauty in the Beast surprised me with its mix of genres. Danse managed to incorporate steampunk elements rather gracefully in her world, immersing the reader in her worldbuilding without superfluous explanation. Her atmosphere spoke for itself, and I’m rather intrigued to see if she bases any further work in this world she has created. Though the details were somewhat sparse, I sensed room for growth and am particularly taken with the idea of mechanimals that she introduced in this short story.

Beauty in the Beast focuses on a traveling troubadour group of puppeteers, singers, and

Beauty in the Beast by Christine Danse

storytellers stranded on a winter night. Though the story is short, Danse manages to allow all the main characters to have their own storytelling peace, telling tales that range from fae folklore to a startingly unique take of werewolf lore grounded in the novel’s steampunk premise. Danse utilizes the stories-within-a-story format to give us a glimpse at each character’s persona as they all contribute their own tale to the fireside storytelling roundabout. The stories themselves were quite charming, somewhat reminiscent of Patricia McKillip’s style of fairy tale retelling while never sounding rehashed or dated. I could easily see Danse filling an entire anthology with original fairy tales and would gladly pay to read it.

Had Danse chosen to stretch her short story into a novella, she might have managed to make the overarching plot more believable and compelling, but unfortunately I wasn’t sold on the quick connection forged between Tara and Rolph. I wish Danse had opted to push herself to embrace a novel-lenth format, because the bones of this story are quite good. Her writing is fluid and engaging, and the manner in which she ultimately ties together seemingly disparate plot threads is novel. Yet she never really reaches her destination, despite how pretty the ride there might be.

I’ll be looking out for more from Danse in the future, and recommend Beauty in the Beast as a worthwhile contribution to the steampunk genre, original fairy tales, paranormal romance, and Beauty and the Beast retellings.