Ironskin is of the Victorian-steampunk genre, so it is situated in a time where motor-cars and cameras do exist, but are referenced to as though they were very recent inventions. Into this quasi-modern world, the author introduces the “fey” or magic element.
It has been 5 years since the Great War between the humans and the fey. The fey are apparently only ribbons of light, assuming human-ish forms only for communicating with or killing humans. Jane was injured in that war, trying to save her brother and now protects herself from the resulting curse by shielding part of her face with an ironskin – a mask of moulded iron thought to stop the ill-effects of a fey curse. She obtains a position of governess in the manor of Mr. Rochart, her job being to educate and minister to his fey-struck child Dorie. While there Jane notices that many wealthy, but ugly women come to Rochart, and leave with faces of beauty. He denies his sculpting abilities to Jane, but as Jane finds out more she is faced with a truth which might be the death of them all . . .
Post-read I realize that this was a sort of retelling of Jane Eyre. There are a few similarities, but not so many that it is immediately obvious – I only realized it because of the names of the protagonists. The author gives us a good bird’s eye view of the setting; I could quite visualize the manor and the woods surrounding it. Little touches like the “bluepacks” (fey sources of power) was interesting. The book also has a superb cover – quite arresting and mysterious.
The book developed as a love story initially with great swathes devoted to Jane’s handling of Dorie’s magical powers. The romance angle is threadbare though; Jane and Rochart meet precious few times, and there didn’t seem any palpable chemistry between them. I liked Jane, but Rochart seemed a tad cowardly. For all his talk and worry about Dorie he seemed to spend little time with her; his character was sketched a little thin. Dorie was the character I had the most sympathy for.
The characters could have used more development and the plot had some logical loopholes. I like the premise of the “fey” intermingled with the real world, but it needed more details; it was like I’d missed the memo on “fey” culture. In books which refer to a different culture or world, the “rules” of that world are generally shown to us before or while events take place. Here, and I consider this the book’s greatest problem, we are thrust into an unseen war between the humans and the fey, but fey-ish details are flimsy and thus lack heft.
I read this at a brisk pace. Inspite of the above problems, the first half did keep me interested. It was only in the later half of the book that things unraveled, with Jane dashing hither and thither without sound reasoning. I normally do not read fantasy but this book’s premise drew in. While it was not all I’d hoped for , it might be a good pick for lovers of the fantasy genre.