Ironskin (Ironskin #1)
by Tina Connolly
This book is a historical fantasy set in a place very much like England. It’s loosely based on Jane Eyre. It was nominated for a 2012 Nebula Award.
Five years after the Great War with the fey (fairies) ended, Jane Eliot comes to work as a governess for the mysterious and handsome Edward Rochart. His little daughter Dorie has had a “fey-curse” from birth. Jane thinks she can help, as she was also cursed by the fey during a battle. She has to wear an iron mask over half her face, so her curse won’t hurt others. In a subplot, her newlywed sister Helen and her husband are also keeping secrets.
The world building here was very good. Jane finds it amusing that her book of children’s tales (a spoof of A Child’s Garden of Verses) tells how to protect yourself from the copperhead hydra, but also has “fictional” stories about dragons. I thought that was a good choice–in a world where humans live with dwarfs and fairies, something else magical doesn’t exist in this world! As Helen is into fashion, there were many descriptions of clothes. The pre-war fashions were long Victorian-type dresses, and the post-war ones were short dresses with fringe, like the 1920s.
Besides the clothes, the theme of the book reminded me of England after World War I–a sense that the wonderful easygoing time of the aristocracy is now lost, and how those times won’t return again even if Jane wishes they could. Both Jane and Rochart have regrets about what happened during the war. The fey gave humans technology to run their cinemas, cameras, and lights. This magical light was blue. After the war, the fey disappeared, so humans must go back to using coal and steam, and no more blue-and-white movies or photos.
Now, about the Jane Eyre connection. The name “Rochart” was too close to “Rochester” for me, but they are different characters with different motivations for their secrets. (From what I remember of Rochester at least; I haven’t read Eyre since high school.) Jane Eliot is young, in her early twenties, but more worldly than Jane Eyre due to her wartime experiences. Connolly does mention “no madwoman in the attic” and mentions Charlotte Brontë in the acknowledgments.
This is the first book in a trilogy. The second book, Copperhead, is about Helen, and the third, Silverblind, is about a grown-up Dorie.
Besides writing, Tina Connolly reads flash fiction stories on her podcast Toasted Cake.