Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Tina Connolly


The sequel to Ironskin is told from the point of view of Jane's frivolous and unreliable sister, Helen. Helen is a high society mover in a world that has been badly affected by a war with the fae, and in the city their blue substance is starting to creep back in like a poisonous fog. She is married to Alistair, a rich man who is trying to get in with the leader of an anti-fey group called Copperhead. Mr Grimsby, who runs Copperhead, has been able to make it increasingly influential by convincing the right people to join his cause.

Helen, Jane and Alistair are at one of Mr Grimsby's gatherings when he is showing off a new device. But Jane and Helen aren't there for the demonstration or the "one people" cause, they're there to operate on Millicent Grimsby's fey-infused face. Millicent wants to run away from her domineering husband and get her own face back, but something goes wrong and she is left in a fey-induced sleep. Meanwhile Jane disappears, under suspicion of attempted murder.

Helen is keen to investigate, but her husband disapproves of her going out to do this. He seems more interested in saving face and keeping in the good esteem of his boozy buddies in Copperhead, who don't like Jane much. However, Helen is determined to find her sister and uncover what is really going on. This means venturing out into parts of the city that don't always welcome humans or rich women, and her beautiful face puts her at risk of being taken over by one of the fey. The city is divided along race lines, where the dwarvven (that's how it's spelt, and they consider "dwarf" an insult) people are treated with contempt and find it increasingly difficult to hold jobs. Society is also fracturing over equality of the sexes, particularly for upper class women who owe their security and wealth to their husbands.

This secondary world is technologically somewhere in the early 20th century, but socially about a century behind that when it comes to things like women's rights and class issues, although the move from fey technology to electricity confuses things somewhat. As Helen sneaks around she finds allies who she's not sure she can trust, and her mission to find Jane becomes a quest to carry on her sister's feminist work. There's a list of influential women she needs to find and convince, but Helen realises it's not just about restoring their old faces and protecting them from the evil fae. Quite a few of the women had changed their appearances for more important reasons than vanity, and what happens to their faces goes beyond its effect on each individual.

Since this novel takes on a new main character there's scope for a new romance. This is sweet and very complicated for the characters involved, and it introduces questions of trust and obligation. Other colourful characters include Eglantine Frye, a direct-talking actress whose bohemian lifestyle opens Helen's eyes to the possibility of not being dependent on a man. Frye wears the slacks when she's off-stage, and although she's a relatively minor character in Copperhead she's spunky enough to deserve a story of her own. Then there's Tam, the cheerful young boy who loves bugs. Helen wants to take care of him and shelter him from the bad influence of his father, Grimsby.

I really enjoyed the social conscience behind this novel. It's a story that doesn't merely bang on about one issue, but explores a number of political themes. Helen is able to use her fey face to influence people, and misuse of power and the creation of puppets comes up in various lights. Variety also extends to the way this story is told, in that there's a mix of poignant, enraging, light, romantic, and pulse-quickening scenes. I'm fond of this bit-of-everything style of storytelling because it reflects the reality of human experience, which is quite important in a tale about glowing blue fae that can split apart and come together again to attack people. What could have been weird is more real and moving when told in this way, and Copperhead is full of moments that are true to the experience of people engaged in power struggles over freedom and equality.

29th October 2013

Book Details

Year: 2013

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

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5 star rating

Review ©

Source: ARC