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.

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday is a meme created at the blog of the same name that poses a different question about reading each week.

This week’s questions is: Do you have a favorite quote from a book?

Do I have a favorite? Oh, what a choice. I recently compiled a list of my favorite book quotesfor a Top Ten Tuesday post, if you don’t care to limit yourself to just one. However, if I had to choose, I’d go with my standby for all things literary:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”

It’s more of a passage than a quote, isn’t it?

Booking Through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday is a meme created at the blog of the same name that poses a different question about reading each week.

This week’s questions is: Have you ever bought a book, started reading it and then realized you have already read it? If so, how far did you get? And-did you keep reading?

I’ve had this happen once to me, as far as I can remember. Sometime around the seventh grade, I checked a book out of the school library after reading the intriguing back cover promising mystery and romance. I was just entering my gothic romance phase (having discovered the wonder that is Jane Eyre in the fifth grade) and so thought this book would be a great fit. As it turns out, I loved it. I even remember what the cover looked like: a sort of deep mauve with a dark red rose across the front.

A few years later, during an early morning troll of the high school library (my regular stomping grounds, as I was not cool enough to hang out with actual people before the first bell rang), I picked up a few intersesting-looking books to keep me occupied for the week. A few days later, I was about twenty pages into my new book when I realized that I had, indeed, read it several years before, and had in fact been wondering as to its identity ever since. I guess names and titles weren’t high priority information to a seventh grader. As it turns out, thus was the beginning of my long love affair with Victoria Holt. The book? Bride of Pendorric.

A similar occurrence happened a few years ago, but it didn’t so much involve an unknowing reread as it did the search for a long-forgotten title. This one was another book that I’d nabbed from the library back in middle school, and once again, while I remembered loving the story, I had no clue as to the author or title. For years, I searched for this book, having very little to go on except for a vague recollection of the title sequence and book cover. Then, while antiques shopping a year or two ago, I came across a dusty collection of old scifi books, and a slim blue book jogged my memory. Apparently, the book that had kept me guessing for years was The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin. Unfortunately, Le Guin’s writing didn’t enchant me as much the second time around, but I’m assuaged that at least the mystery of its identity has been solved.

Bookish Goodies

The only things I love buying more than books are things related to books and writing. I’ve accumulated a number of book-related trinkets over the past month or so, but I don’t like to include non-book items in my Showcase Sunday post. So with some time on my hands today, I thought I would do a little photo shoot to show off my pretties.

Ever attentive to my literary obsessions, my boyfriend surprised me with this beautiful glass ornament filled with strips of lines from Jane Eyre. You can find your own ornament filled with quotations from your favorite novel at Excessively Diverting’s Etsy store.

While I’ve always been somewhat of a sporadic journal writer, I do endeavor. There’s nothing quite like filling a blank page with scrawling black script of your own musings. Yet try as I might, I just can’t devote the time I’d like to journal writing. I’ve been lusting after Keel’s Simple Diary for about a year now, so when I walked into Anthropologie earlier this week during their super sale to find it discounted, I knew the time had come. The fact that the saleswoman greeted me at the door with croissants and mimosas didn’t hurt, either. I’m still making more of an effort to write actual journal entries, but it’s nice to have this as an alternative for writing prompts. I especially love that each color diary comes with its own welcome page; when I saw that olive green encouraged me to “let a little science fiction into [my] life,” I knew it was the one for me.

Another long-time lust, and another sale, this time in an unexpected place. I’ve been wanting one of these author-scented candles for a while now. How could I not want something that smells not just like a library, but like a specific author? Needless to say, I was thrilled to find this Dickens candle on sale at a local independent furniture store.

Though I found them in the children’s section, I couldn’t resist buying these fairy-tale themed pencils for only $3. I’ve always been a sucker for pencils with natural wood finish and white erasers. Add a silvery message telling me “don’t forget to write,” and I’m sold.

One last long-time love, I’ve coveted these Penguin Books mugs for ages. Imagine my delight upon finding an entire Penguin Books goods display in my local bookstore. Canteens, notebooks, luggage tags: I didn’t know where to start. I was ready to purchase an On the Road luggage tag when I spotted this beauty peeking out from the very back. My new favorite mug for my forever-favorite book, it was love at first sight.

I’m always telling myself to write more snail mail, and thanks to the adorable notecards in Michaels’s dollar section, now I have no reason not to.

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 Ten Favorite Quotes From Books

1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

“I sometimes have a queer feeling with regard to you — especially when you are near to me, as now: it is as if I had a string somewhere under my left ribs, tightly and inextricably knotted to a similar string situated in the corresponding quarter of your little frame. And if that boisterous Channel, and two hundred miles or so of land, come broad between us, I am afraid that cord of communion will be snapped; and then I’ve a nervous notion I should take to bleeding inwardly.”

2. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

“He had noticed that events were cowards: they didn’t occur singly, but instead they would run in packs and leap out at him all at once.”

3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”‘

4. Luck in the Shadows by Lynn Flewelling

“Though you thrust your dagger at my eyes, I will not flinch.”

5. I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak

“Sometimes people are beautiful.
Not in looks.
Not in what they say.
Just in what they are.”

6. Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

“I was suddenly struck by how dissimilar we were. It occurred to me that if Grace and I were objects, she would be an elaborate digital clock, synced up with the World Clock in London with technical perfection, and I’d be a snow globe – shaken memories in a glass ball.”

7. Blood Magic by Eileen Wilks

“What was romance but a lovely bit of play between man and woman?”

8. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

“Nothing was happening, really, but the moment was thick with mattering.”

9. Roadkill by Rob Thurman

“Pick up your clothes. I am not your maid. How do I know this? A maid cannot kill you with a tube sock. I can. ”

10. XVII (I do not love you…) by Pablo Neruda

“I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.”

Review: Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

As anyone who knows me is well aware, my love for Jane Eyre will never be overshadowed. So I don’t take attempted retellings lightly, as I’ve discussed previously in my review of April Lindner’s Jane, which can be found here.

When I first saw the tagline for Jenna Starborn, “Jane Eyre in space,” I was simultaneously intrigued and horrified. While I was delighted to see someone attempting such an ambitious adaptation of my beloved tale, the avenues for this story to go horribly wrong seemed astoundingly abundant. The only other Shinn title I’d read, Summers at Castle Auburn, was a pleasant enough fantasy tale, yet it failed to draw me in through sympathy for its characters. Still, when I stumbled upon this hard-to-locate title at a local library sale, I knew I had to give it a go.

Jenna Starborn by Sharon Shinn

For all my fears, Jenna Starborn started out rather promisingly. Shinn’s construction of her futuristic landscape was thorough without being taxing, and as incongruous as it seemed, the foundation of the Jane Eyre storyline actually seemed to work in this improbable setting. In order to establish the class boundaries necessary to create the obstacle to Jane and Rochester’s relationship, Shinn replaced the Victorian station-based caste system with one based on genetic simulation, with lab-created humans and cyborgs occupying the lowest rungs of the hierarchy. Initially, I thought Shinn made a wise decision in speeding along the narrative during Jenna’s early years. While Jane’s oppressive years spent in her aunt’s home and, later, at Lowood School are instrumental in showing readers how Jane’s constitution was shaped, faithful fans of the source work already know this. By maintaining the gist of those passages while removing some of the clutter, Shinn allowed the original structure to stay intact and was able to devote more time to building her own original world rather than merely rehashing Bronte’s work.

What I loved about Shinn’s adaptation was the fact that, while the sequence of events matched that in the original, Shinn did not feel compelled to remain entirely faithful to Bronte’s story. Both Jenna and Mr. Ravenbeck are similar enough to their predecessors, yet Shinn breathes new life into them. That’s not to say that I prefer their personalities to those of Jane and Rochester; quite the opposite, in fact. Yet Shinn was not afraid to stray from the mold somewhat. Perhaps her bravest departure was in creating a dual image of Jane, preserving the original governess figure in Janet while telling the story through Jenna’s perspective. Interestingly, I found Janet to be by far the more captivating of the two women; more’s the pity that her choices seemed artificially thoughtless, for I’d rather have had the story told from her perspective, even if it were still ultimately Jenna and Ravenbeck who ended up together. Shinn’s interpretation of the fortune telling scene was also incorporated particularly well and made Ravenbeck’s deception much more believable than in the original. I’ve always had difficulty believing that Rochester could so easily pass for an old gypsy woman, so I applaud Shinn for alleviating that one small gripe.

Unfortunately, it’s here that my praise ends, for Shinn utterly failed to draw me into the emotion of the story. While Jenna and Ravenbeck were admittedly not mere reiterations of Jane and Rochester, that’s not to say that they were fully fleshed-out characters. They might as well have been cyborgs themselves for all the feelings I sensed from them, even during the pivotal emotional scenes. In trimming the original story down to its basics, Shinn eliminated the page time necessary for Jenna and Ravenbeck to get to know each other and see past the other’s surface. Telling rather than showing is a fatal flaw, yet it’s one in abundance here. Jenna’s love for Ravenbeck is improbable , for readers simply aren’t given a reason for that love to have grown.

Sadly, the emotional payoff didn’t deliver on the promise that the structure set up, nor did Shinn’s interpretation really accommodate the feminist message that the original strove to instill. Jenna’s journey away from Ravenbeck and back again shows no personal growth, nor does her easygoing acceptance of Ravenbeck’s actions speak to the reasoned decisions that Jane was forced to make in Bronte’s masterpiece. While I would recommend fans track this one down for the novel translation of the original into science fiction, I wouldn’t expect to fall in love with your favorite characters again.