Science fiction and fantasy                                            


by Tina Connolly


Beauty and strangeness abound in this story about coming to terms with disfigurement. The main character Jane was injured in the war between humans and fey when a bomb that killed her brother left half her face scarred and cursed. That was five years in the past. However the wound won't heal, so now she wears an iron mask to stop the curse leaking out and affecting everyone around her with the anger she feels.

The mask isn't enough to cover up her condition, though, and she's lost a number of jobs because people are afraid of those touched by the fey. Although these creatures disappeared back into the forests, the fear of them lives on. So Jane is desperate when she takes a post as governess at a household in a crumbling old mansion on the edge of the forest. Her employer is Mr Rochart, a reclusive artist who creates bizarre masks, but although business is good he has trouble recruiting more than a skeleton staff because of his daughter. Dorie was born to a mother who was killed and taken over by a fey whilst pregnant, and the child has been left with fey abilities. Unfortunately Dorie is very clumsy and reluctant to use her hands, preferring to use magic to manipulate things around her.

At first Jane tries to help Dorie with encouragement, bribes and games, but it's frustrating work and she starts to despair of ever being able to help the child. These struggles are alternately poignant and hilarious. But Dorie is an outside who will become a pariah and perhaps endanger herself unless she can control her fey behaviour.

Jane understands the situation all too well. When she returns to visit her sister Helen in the city she can't fit in with the parties and beautiful people. Helen's friends are whip-tongued, and their catty remarks make them seem vain, trivial and selfish. Jane lacks pride and confidence, so the envy she feels towards these unscarred women is understandable. But would she really want to be other than she is, and at what price? This story is set in a kind of austere post-war world of emerging industrialism that's something akin to the 1930s in terms of advancement, but it put me in mind of the modern beauty and cosmetic surgery industry with all its fakery. I liked Jane because she has realistic struggles with self-confidence and anger, but she's neither wet nor unbelievably furious and kick-ass.

Tina Connolly's dwarves are a little unusual, but her fey are unlike any I've come across before in literature. The dwarves are technologists and they mostly appear on the edge of this story, but the fey are insubstantial creatures of light and emotion, with technologies that no other race can grasp. These fey are ageless and uncompromising. They can be blocked by iron and supernatural rules about inviting them over thresholds and the like, but they're never far away. They're malicious creatures who are attracted to beauty and artistry above all else.

There's an emerging love story between Jane and Mr Rochart, along with some fairly obvious parallels with Jane Eyre. However the way the love story unfolds is intriguing, and the author isn't trying to say the same things as Charlotte Brontë was. I really enjoyed the way she uses some of the traditions about the fey to examine issues about vanity and body consciousness. With Dorie we're presented with a child with special needs whose differences everyone is trying to hide and repress, but who also has talents in spite of her apparent handicap, or even because of it. And as well as being very socially aware, Ironskin is an exciting story that features a wealth of action, romance and high emotion.

30th October 2012

Book Details

Year: 2012

Categories: Books

    Female Protagonist  

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