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Ironskin by Tina Connolly
Cover Artist: Larry Rostant
Review by Drew Bittner
Tor Books Hardcover  ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765330598
Date: 02 October 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK

Links: Author's Website / Book Trailer / First Chapter / Show Official Info /

Beneath a demi-mask of iron lies the elf-scarred cheek of Jane Eliot, schoolteacher and survivor of the Great War that claimed many lives--and ruined many more, like hers--only five years ago. When she is cast out of a teaching post, she takes a job as a governess to a nearly feral child out in the country--but what she finds will overturn her world altogether.

In Ironskin by Tina Connolly, the heroine Jane goes to the edges of civilization to help an artist whose child is unusual.

Little Dorie has an uncanny talent for animating objects, which has left her largely unable (and unwilling) to use her hands. Driven to prove herself, Jane devises some ingenious techniques for compelling Dorie when persuasion and intimidation both fail. But it is quickly clear that her techniques may be doing the girl great harm, forcing Jane to rethink many things--including her own use of an iron mask to conceal (and control) her own curse.

Scarred by an elven bomb during the Great War, Jane has largely managed to control her own outbursts of unnatural rage. These flashes of temper no longer dominate her the way they did; in fact, she starts to learn (as she works with Dorie) that her curse may not be as much a disability as she thought.

Meanwhile, her employer, Mr. Rochart, is an artist--but Jane is frustrated in her efforts to learn what his "art" creates. All she knows is that a succession of women, many of them ugly, arrive at the country house... and a succession of beautiful young women leave. What is he doing, and what price does this art exact from Rochart and his clientele?

Even Jane's sister, Martha, betrothed to a wealthy young brute, is not far enough away to be unaffected by these events; Jane discovers, to her horror, that Martha is involved in a very personal way. And what she learns of Mr. Rochart's artwork is perhaps the most terrible and intimate betrayal of all.

For the Great War has not truly ended. The elves gathered their forces and left-- but the battle is not done, and the weapons of the enemy are subtle indeed.

Connolly has created a fascinating and highly entertaining mashup of sorts between the Bronte sisters' classics and modern urban fantasy. Jane Eliot is a protagonist pulled direct from these Gothic romances, cast into a gloomy house with only two servants as uncertain friends, a child to govern who cannot be governed, and an employer who is as desirable as he is mysterious. Her journey to unravel so many mysteries, including the true nature of the cursed scars and the iron that keeps them in check, is a truly heroic quest, complete with surprises and reversals.

Although Rochart begins as a cipher, he is a familiar one: he is much like Rochester or Heathcliff, ravaged by dark secrets and eager for the love of a good woman, but hesitant to trust and thereby dooming his relationships. His past is gradually and cleverly revealed, wrapped around a secret of the Great War.

The setting is wonderful, creating a sister city to Regency London and its surrounding countryside, although this one is dark and unsettled in the aftermath of a devastating war. The image of so many crippled and maimed is compelling and dire in its own way.

Connolly is off to a wonderful start with these characters, creating a story with confidence and skill, and one hopes she'll see fit to return to them soon. This world and its people have much yet to explore.

Highly recommended.

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