Ironskin by Tina Connolly crept under my skin and sent a chill to my bones. It had all the ingredients of a traditional, spine tingling gothic novel, but with sensational new twists that made it something fresh and unexpected.
The story opens right after a Great War has been fought against the fey, a haunting group of beings whose myths are rooted in our known fairy lore, but can not take on physical forms anymore. For generations people have depended on fey technology to give them electricity and modern ways of living, until the fey started to turn against them.
Jane Elliot, the heroine in this tale, was hit with a fey curse during the War and it has left her emotionally scarred and physically disfigured, leaving her few options in a torn land struggling to piece itself together after years of battling an invisible enemy. She decides to take a job as a governess to a young girl who has been effected by the fey in a mysterious way, presenting a challenge reminiscent of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker, but with supernatural underpinnings. Jane gets entangled with the girl’s father, Edward Rochart and finds herself drawn to him, until she meets a series of hideous women who leave his house more beautiful than ever, while eerie things seem to be happening in the woods that surround the decaying manor house.
Jane wears an iron mask to contain her fey curse at all times. She is very conscious of how it marks her as different, often dwelling on what might have been, if her once beautiful face had never been distorted. It was intriguing watching her struggle to articulate herself as a woman who is now overlooked because of her scar. Jane has a toughness of spirit and a resolve that I came to admire, as she is constantly surrounded by survivors of the War, who want to wash away all of the bad memories with beauty and artifice.
The story certainly draws inspiration from Jane Eyre, but it feels more like an homage than a retelling. I was transfixed by the enigma of Connolly’s fey, how they were no longer strong enough to take on their own form, and how during the Great War they took over dead humans. Exploring Jane’s postapocalyptic world in the aftermath of a catastrophic conflict through the detailed narrative, led me to better understand her choices and decisions.
Ironskin drew me in with its frightening fey, alluring Mr. Rochart, spectral world building, unique cast of characters, and the complexities of a society trying to rebuild itself after destruction. I was rooting for Jane, curious about the history of this ‘other’ England, all while keeping a keen eye trained towards the woods for any traces of errant fairy…