Ironskin

 

Ironskin

By: Tina Connolly

(http://tinaconnolly.com/)

Published by: Tor (2012)

A young adult steampunk fantasy review

 

Ironskin-cover

 

The Great War blasted Jane Eliot’s life apart, just as the fey blasted her cheek with their curse.  Now she is ironskin, forced to cover her face with an iron mask to keep others safe.  When Mr. Rochart advertises for a governess to care for a girl in a “delicate situation,” Jane knows she can help this fellow victim.  Yet, a lot more greets Jane at her new position than a difficult child.  Jane finds there are more curses than she knows, and learns about masks more burdensome than iron.

The framework of Jane Eyre brings this novel a natural sinking point for the reader to dive in and let themselves go.  We already know the basis for this romance, for these main characters’ traits, so we are free to splash through the vivid colors of the war with the fey, the steampunk world details, and the new barriers that this Jane faces right away.  Knowing the strengths to expect from this Jane could have been disastrous if she didn’t match up, but the fact that she so resoundingly does makes the story of what this Jane remembers and how she chooses that much more endearing than if she’d had no one to live up to.  Similarly, knowing we will eventually reach certain turning points in the story makes the building parts more purely intriguing rather than tense.  Jane’s charge, Dorie, plays a much larger role in this book and we learn a lot through interacting with her.  Jane’s dynamic with Mr. Rochart leans heavily on audience foreknowledge for the romance, but he allows us to see new angles of this Jane and how she sees herself.  Jane Eliot’s identity rests between visions of herself where she has various levels of opportunity, personal connections, and beauty.  Exploring the ties between these things among all her characters, Connolly pulls on chords familiar to us all while grounding her fantastic society.

The new details and mysteries swirling through this world keep the pace swift as we long to know not just what will happen next but what has already happened.  Each character in here is Connolly’s own and indelibly set within this strange world, so even those who can’t bear the thought of an impure Jane Eyre should be able to read it without flinching.  The prose engages and surrounds with firm moments and beautiful imagery.  The only issue I had was that the ending is rushed.  After such lovely delving and swooping through this gothic tale I was suddenly crashed right through the center of things, with no opportunity to get my bearings or start to breathe again.  It lacks that last chapter, where loose ends are tied up and you can feel the satisfaction of knowing how things have turned out.  I still have some questions that I doubt the sequel, from Helen’s point of view, will answer.  Basically, I needed more!  And I still do, so I’m relieved there is a sequel.  I loved reading Ironskin.

 

Questions I Still Have (BEWARE SPOILERS):

-So, where WAS all Rochart’s money going??  I mean, it’s implied that he’s paying off his ex-wife’s father, but the guy’s a village shop owner and no one is saying he’s living it up, so he can hardly be using up all of Edward’s vast fees.  What happened to the rest of it?  Is Poule sending a bundle back to her clan?

-Wait, so if the curses and things are all parts of actual fey being punished by separation, then if whoever takes charge over the fey next decides to pull their forces together or end some punishments, or time just runs out, people’s FACES could just FLY OFF??  I do not think people are concerned enough about this possibility.

-Why were blue tendrils trying to keep Rochart in the forest that time if the queen’s plan was for him to keep coming back and giving people fey faces, anyway?

-So, if Dorie can see people she cares about through walls, does that mean that all the fey can just see through anything but iron?

-If it was Edward’s fey gift that meant he could remove people’s faces, then how can he reverse the procedure now it’s gone?  Is Jane going to make Dorie do it?

-Can all fey just feel everyone’s feelings and where they are if they care about them?

-Shouldn’t it matter that Jane’s current face came from a mask with a forehead chip?  Is it just going to look like there’s a birthmark up there or what?

 

Please tell me if you’ve ideas about these!

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The Iron Queen (Daughters of Zeus #3)

The Iron Queen (Daughters of Zeus #3)

By: Kaitlin Bevis

(http://kaitlinbevis.com/)

Published by: Euterpe (2013)

A young adult fantasy review

 

(Reviews of Daughters of Zeus #1 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/persephone-daughters-of-zeus-1/

and Daughters of Zeus #2 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/24/daughter-of-earth-and-sky-daughters-of-zeus-2/)

 

Finally, Zeus’s endgame is nigh, in all its horror.  The remaining gods cluster together to try and outwit him, while Persephone simply tries to hold on to herself.  The longer she lives under Zeus’s power, the less clear her mind becomes.  Yet, Persephone must keep some rules clear, or all the realms will fall to the mercy of this divine madman.

The Iron Queen differs from its predecessors by switching from Persephone’s perspective to those of Aphrodite and Hades in order to keep the reader apprised of all the action.  This ensemble approach quickens the pace and intensity with a variety of emotions and plans, making it more difficult to predict the outcome.  With her own voice, Aphrodite recasts her history so neatly that she nearly steals the book.  The new deities introduced in this work interact plausibly in modern roles while still maintaining their mythic essences and ferocity.  All of Bevis’s rules for divine interactions and abilities play together naturally, renewing these characters and drawing the reader into this world by removing the usual distance between the ordinary and divine.  This last work really is the culmination of all Bevis’s ploys to convince readers that the Greek gods truly belong in modern times.

The Iron Queen is the climax of battle between desperate, frightened gods, and as such it is filled with cruelty, confusion, bitterness, and vulnerability.  This book offers more suspense and action than the previous two, with less romance.  This is definitely the darkest of the series and feels heavier, but that brutality shores up Persephone’s world by balancing the supernatural nature of her story with equally harsh consequences.  It brings this story home to the reader and makes the aftermath that much more cathartic, as all Greek tales should be.  It’s engrossing.

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-https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2012/10/04/shadowfell/ (Shadowfell review)

Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

Daughter of Earth and Sky (Daughters of Zeus #2)

By: Kaitlin Bevis

(http://kaitlinbevis.com/)

Published by: Euterpe (December 2012)

A young adult fantasy review

 

(Review of Daughters of Zeus #1 here: https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/persephone-daughters-of-zeus-1/)

 

Persephone’s victory over Boreas proves short-lived.  Suddenly, a siren of a sister goddess rises and Persephone is saddled with acclimating Aphrodite.  Persephone’s realization of her powers causes friction with both Demeter and Melissa.  Zeus poses an increasing threat.  And no one can declare war on a deity quite like the god of death.  The stakes keep getting higher and Persephone finds herself sacrificing everything.  Will there be anything left to salvage in the end?

Daughter of Earth and Sky takes readers steadily further into the dark side of mythology.  No longer playing with the safe, familiar stories, Bevis thrusts Persephone straight into the world of endless appetites, divine demands for sex, death, and cruelty.  The effects feel much more immediate when you don’t already know at least the frame for the story.  Persephone acquits herself well, without losing her accessibility or plausibility.  The plot turns just fast enough so that predictions don’t overshadow the suspense.  The romance between Hades and Persephone turns easily with the story, a key part of the plot rather than gratuitous fluff.

In short, Daughter of Earth and Sky is the exemplary second book: new elements are introduced without encroaching on the old, obstacles are overcome to the point of facing the ultimate danger without giving away anything about the climax, characters experience real growth, romance reaches a level of satisfaction to offset the unfinished plotlines, and you want to read the next one.  Particularly because this book ended so abruptly.  If Persephone refreshed the roots for spring, Daughter of Earth and Sky grew the story’s stem.  Now we just need the blossom.

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‘Luka and the Fire of Life’ review

Luka and the Fire of Life

By: Salman Rushdie

(http://www.salman-rushdie.com/)

Random House 2010

A middle grade fantasy review

 

 

In this sequel to Haroun and the Sea of Stories (https://wheresmytower.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/167/) Luka, the second son of famous storyteller Rashid Khalifa, undertakes a magical adventure, just as he’s always longed to do.  Sadly, he finds his way to the magical lands because his father is trapped in an unshakable sleep.  If Luka cannot maneuver his way through the videogame-like obstacles of Rashid’s tales and bring back the Fire of Life, that sleep will fade into death.  Luka finds his way filled with beings from his father’s stories, including all the gods and goddesses of classical pantheons, a country of insulters, and the chilling guardians of time.  Luckily, Luka is not alone-his party includes a dancing bear (named Dog), a singing dog (named Bear), and a ghostly version of his father.  Plus, Luka’s garnered a few hundred lives to spare in this game…

Luka’s fragility and determination make him a very likeable hero.  It’s easy to root for a boy who faces off against everything with the same awareness and stubbornness, in spite of any bizarreness or trauma.  Rushdie’s turns of phrase paint delightful pictures of the World of Magic and supporting characters, also.  Unfortunately, this sequel lacks the creative fire of Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Luka’s quest is overshadowed by Rushdie’s attempt to explicitly connect it to the modern world, increasingly bogged down with incessant references rather than original creations, and lacking the enchantment that accompanied its predecessor.  While both books begin with a serious problem and end in its sudden cure, it is far more jarring this time around.  Haroun’s tale had the zest and fairy-tale spirit to carry it off, whereas Luka’s simulation is too obviously a self-aware, coping mechanism, as well as needing an additional forced plotpoint to carry it off.  Moreover, Haroun’s quest had plenty of other new things to discover that the final ending felt simple and right.  Luka’s mission is always totally focused on one thing instead of finding another purpose and feels more like an episodic resume of Rushdie’s mythical thoughts than a whole story that flows on its own.

In short, I feel like Luka and the Fire of Life was Rushdie writing as the learned Rashid Khalifa, rather than the actual hero or the readers.  Perhaps Rashid, with his onstage presence and magical voice could have given this tale that spark of life, without that there’s a disconnect.  This book still has a lot to enjoy.  But basically, Rushdie can do better.

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy)

Unspoken (The Lynburn Legacy #1)

By: Sarah Rees Brennan

(http://sarahreesbrennan.com/)

Random House (September 11, 2012)

A young adult fantasy romance review

Kami Glass has come to terms with the fact that she may be crazy.  After all, when the voice you’re constantly connected to in your brain is the friend who makes you feel sane, even craziness seems safer than losing them.  Particularly when Kami’s zest for investigation begins exposing her quiet English town as a disturbing place.  Unfortunately, the new discoveries are happening everywhere and they are not abiding by the rules.  The founding family has returned to the town, animals are being ritually sacrificed in the woods, and supernatural things seem to be happening.  But for Kami, the most unnerving thing of all is meeting her imaginary friend…in the flesh.

Brennan writes with charm and creates voices that are distinctly fun.  For all of the strangeness of Kami’s private world with Jared, Unspoken is cheering and easy to read.  The mystery element folds in nicely, turning up new information at a good pace without losing suspense from any of aspect of the story.  The world of Sorry-in-the-Vale fills the novel with a sense of place, with a fully-functioning society to support the important characters, and with an atmosphere that feels natural, no matter what eccentricities came to light.

Most importantly, Unspoken plays with the notion of individuality and what it really means.  In order to care about this overall theme, Brennan really had to bring it with her characters.  She succeeded.  Kami heads a cast of three-dimensional people with histories and secrets.  Specific stereotypes are deliberately smashed and issues of class and race are included as they really would be, integral underlying matters that don’t need a lot of focus to touch on everything.  The discussion of physical beauty and attraction mirrors and complements Brennan’s discussion of personality and perception in such simple ways it was almost painfully wonderful.

Unspoken meddles with so many things: romance, mystery, magic, meaningful questions.  This novel works through as many layers as Kami and Jared do in their relationship with each other.  The ending clarity felt nearly wrong, with so many layers of suspense and wonder lost in the final revelations.  On the other hand, this is only book one and I see several reasons why Brennan may have wanted the ending to feel that way.  If nothing else, it felt fitting.  This is the first Sarah Rees Brennan book I have read and already I trust her to ultimately provide satisfaction.  Like Kami, I feel “strongly that Fridays should not be full of disappointments.”  Luckily, Unspoken offered me none.