Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

Review: Ironskin by Tina Connolly

At times I lazily select a book based on its title or cover with no specific expectation beyond a momentary “um, this looks interesting” thought. My reading of Tina Connolly’s Ironskin was one of these.

I simply thought,

“Heh… interesting title.”

Ironsking by Tina Connelly | A Review on

Ironsking by Tina Connelly | A Review on

I hadn’t read too far into the book before thinking it had a Jane Eyre quality to it. Admittedly, it’s been many, many years since I’ve read the classic Bronte novel, but there’s a distinct air, no pun intended, to the ambience of the book. So, I called Sarah and mentioned this very-astute observation, and then she informed me that Ironskin is indeed a steampunk retelling of the classic gothic tale.

Unfortunately, while I enjoyed reading Ironskin, I found the retelling a veneer that I discarded as superfluous and the steampunk elements rather pretentious and under-developed.

Like in the source material, Jane comes to work as a governess at a once-elegant house fallen into disrepair; there’s a strangely haunted and despairing man; an odd child; and they’re all waiting to reveal secrets that lie within, both literally and figuratively. 

Ironskin delves into the masks individuals wear to hide from themselves and others. Hiding from reality behind an iron mask to shield her from the power of the fey against whom humans suffered a devastating loss from in a recent war becomes a door to open and release truth and power. Jane’s mask, she comes to realize, is not unlike less obvious ones worn by others. Masks become a motif woven throughout the pages of the novel.

“Perhaps there are more masks like that than we think. A mask you cannot look through…your eyes sealed shut.”

Fey lived in comfortable compatibility with humans furnishing them with technology to power the machinery of their lives. Blue packs flitted from the forest, home of the Fey, into the hands and lives of humans who did not realize that there is a price for everything.

“The forest had a foothold it would not relinquish.”

Dorie, Jane’s charge whose mother had been attacked by Fey during her pregnancy, asserted Fey power from the tips of her fingers to bring whatever she wanted to her side or to manipulate objects as she pleased. It became Jane’s responsibility as the governess to tame the child, to teach her to behave as a normal child, although a child with Fey ability. Jane’s job soon became a mission of love for the child and the child’s strange yet artistic father. Two worlds, Fey and human, would collide in a battle to end Fey domination.

“Everything between the worlds must be bought and paid for.”

Jane realizes that her mask—her ironskin in place to protect her, actually masks and holds her back from her true power.

Her horribly scarred face that she earned in fighting the Fey she hides from the view of others. But Jane wonders if it may hide truth and reality causing a disability to see herself as a powerful individual.

Since the scarring holds bits of Fey life, does it prevent her from using Fey power against the Fey?

“What does the iron hold inside? Fencing in? Bottling up her true self?”

If Jane is to fight to save Dorie and all who have Fey power trapped inside therefore controlling them, then she must thrust aside the masks that hold each person shackled to images of beauty and power that are nothing more than a living death making them untrue to themselves and those around them.

“Everything between the worlds must be bought and paid for.”

The cities that rose again after the Fey War have been bought and paid for as have all the people who bow to Fey magic and suffer the consequences of their decisions.

“Dead fish and new machinery wove a thick miasma that lay along the river like a wool coat drenched in a storm.”

The thick miasma of lost souls  crush against Jane’s heart and mind. Her sister’s in danger while her dearly loved Dorie and her father Edward Rochart are equally in danger. Each person who is touched by the Few holds a curse inside, coiled and ready to strike, each suffused into their very being.

Ironskin defies categorization.

It is fantasy, a retelling of a classic, steampunk to a degree but it is much more. It is a love story. It is a war story. It is a story of becoming true to yourself.

Thoughtful themes laced with philosophical queries emerge in Ironskin that hold true regardless of whether the novel is a retelling of Jane Eyre or a work that stands on its own merit. Fanciful images, dark intentions interspersed with love and commitment make Ironskin a work that stands on its own merit if the retelling aspects are forgotten. The final words of the novel say it best,

“We have few [Fey] in our bodies now, and we can use it to defend ourselves, or we can be victims.”

Ironskin is the first in a new series; the sequel is due out sometime in 2013.

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