Ironskin by Tina Connolly (Tor, Oct. 2012)-When Jane Eliot first approaches the dark, forbidding (and fey designed) Silver Birch Hall, she steels herself for what’s to come. She knows she needs a job, and hopes that being a governess to a little girl that was born during the Great War would give her an opportunity to help someone much like herself, someone scarred by fey magic. In fact, Jane has to wear an iron mask to cover the damage to half of her face, and also to contain the curse of rage that comes along with it. She soon discovers that her new charge, Dorie, has powers beyond what she could have imagined, and her efforts to contain them may be more harmful than helpful. Then there’s Dorie’s father, Edward Rochart. Brooding, moody Edward holds a strange attraction for Jane, but surely a man such as him would never want to be with someone like her, right?
It’s been about five years since the Great War ended and the fey mysteriously retreated, leaving humanity with a shortage of the fey tech that has made life so easy, and scrambling to make up for it with human technology. However, Silver Birch Hall seems to have plenty of fey tech at hand, and the woods that surround the house sometimes seem infused with blue light. Jane knows that Edward is an artist, and the gruesome masks that are on display certainly raise more questions, but when she starts to notice women entering his studio and coming out looking much different than before, she’s mystified. However, she has plenty on her plate with Dorie and her growing attraction to Edward seems to be warring with her common sense.
Ironskin takes place in an alternate early 1900s England where fey magic was once prevalent, but since their retreat, has become more and more scarce, leaving the country in turmoil. Jane’s history with the fey is tragic, to be sure, and her curse has instilled in her an unhealthy self-loathing. She can’t believe that Edward could possibly be interested in her, in spite of his subtle advances, but her sense of duty to Dorie weighs heavily on her, and she finds herself becoming quite loyal to the duo. It turns out that she’ll need this loyalty to survive the fey threat that surrounds this family and has indeed burrowed deep into the town and its people, especially people in high places. Obvious comparisons will be made to Jane Eyre and especially for me, Beauty and the Beast. The tension between Jane and Edward is quite delicious, and although Jane’s will is strong, her sense of self isn’t, at least not at first, but don’t worry, Jane surprised me in wonderful ways and this story is as much about her personal growth as it is about magic, and if you enjoy historical fantasy, with a twisty, unique take on the fey (they’re very “other”, and rather scary), you’ll really enjoy this book. Keep an eye out for the next book in the series, Copperhead, out in October!