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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Review: Jane Steele

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , , ,
Jane Steele
by Lyndsay Faye
Historical Fiction
Amazon  /  Goodreads

Plot Summary:

Reader, I murdered him.

A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.

Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked - but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.

A fugitive navigating London's underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate's true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household's strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him - body, soul and secrets - and what if he discovers her murderous past?


The premise of this retelling of Jane Eyre does sound utterly out of place.  Brontë's character is so righteous and a perfect role model, that to then turn Jane into a serial killer for a retelling sounds like the worst reading of Jane's character ever.  However, this book manages to pull it off beautifully!  It helps that Jane Steele is seen as a parallel to Jane - that while we are reading this book, for some reason Jane Steele's life parallel's Jane Eyre, and Steele takes inspiration from Eyre's morality and steadfast honesty.  However Steele is a different person, and in this extreme version of her story, Jane Steele feels the need and the satisfaction to make sure the horrible people in the book reap what they sow.

That's another reason why this story works so well though.  The characters are more Dickens-esque (even more so than that however) in their grotesque villainy, and it is still completely wrong, but just so satisfying that Jane Steele deals them the consequences of their actions.  Jane does not kill people for no reason, and it's some horrible actions on the part of her victims that leads Jane to act.  It was intriguing to read how certain characters - merely selfish and cruel in the original novel - become even more outrageously brutal and merciless in this version.  It made me completely sympathetic to Jane Steele.

A true highlight of this book though, is that even though it is a retelling, Jane Steele is completely her own character.  The novel takes it's time to develop her story, her history and the characters that populate her world, without relying on prior knowledge of Jane Eyre.  It's a complete story on it's own, and there are many memorable new characters in this book.  Many of them are villainous, but one that very much appealed to me was Charles Thornfield's friend and confidant Sardar Singh - a capable, intelligent, Sikh commander, who just wants peace and contemplation.  And who has a hilariously wry sense of humor.

Charles Thornfield was this novel's take on Rochester and he was a very intriguing character.  Secretive like the original, sardonic, curt, but a bit more virtuous perhaps to counter Jane Steele's past, and also wonderfully dry and humorous himself.  His sarcastic comments that Jane always recognized as coming from a place of real affection made me smile, and love him all the more.  It's sweet how touched Jane is by Charles's love for his friends and close family, and how that makes her want to be with him.  Jane has had a very difficult life til this point and it's intriguing to see Charles Thornfield as her redemption, instead of the other way around as it is for Rochester and Jane Eyre.

This novel is full of it's own twists and turns on the original, to make it a surprising and engaging read.  I loved seeing all the nods to Jane Eyre, and the scenes that were repurposed or transformed to fit this narrative.  And for the nods to other classics of literature like Nicholas Nickleby.  This is a great mystery too, in addition to a coming of age story for Jane, and an examination of guilt and consequences for Jane as well as for Charles Thornfield.  Even though I came to this book, expecting a re-visit on Brontë's novel, there is so much more depth to this novel, and I admired how brilliantly the author brought everything to life!

(I received this book from the publisher or author for a fair and honest review.  I was not compensated for this review.)

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