My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Reader, I loved it.
I was so excited to get my hands on a copy of this book and it most certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s a darker take on the classic Jane Eyre story with an engaging main character, a fascinating plot and a real atmosphere which completely drew me in to the story.
This is a book that will stick with me for a long time and is one I will no doubt read again and again.
Reader, I murdered him.
A Gothic retelling of Jane Eyre.
Like the heroine of the novel she adores, Jane Steele suffers cruelly at the hands of her aunt and schoolmaster. And like Jane Eyre, they call her wicked – but in her case, she fears the accusation is true. When she flees, she leaves behind the corpses of her tormentors.
A fugitive navigating London’s underbelly, Jane rights wrongs on behalf of the have-nots whilst avoiding the noose. Until an advertisement catches her eye. Her aunt has died and the new master at Highgate House, Mr Thornfield, seeks a governess. Anxious to know if she is Highgate’s true heir, Jane takes the position and is soon caught up in the household’s strange spell. When she falls in love with the mysterious Charles Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him – body, soul and secrets – and what if he discovers her murderous past?
Before I say anything else about this book I should first say that I absolutely love Jane Eyre. It’s one of my all time favorite stories. I’ve read it a number of times and watched pretty much every adaptation there is of it so it’s safe to say I know the story well and in fact could quote parts of it off by heart.
When I saw Jane Steele was described as a gothic retelling of Jane Eyre I couldn’t resist. Unlike a lot of the other classics, retellings of Jane Eyre seem to be few and far between. The addition of the gothic element made the prospect even more exciting. While I loved Jane I have to admit I sometimes wished she’d taken more of a stand and fought for what (or who) she wanted and who doesn’t love a bit of gothic storytelling every now and then.
This isn’t your typical retelling however as Jane Eyre, as a work of fiction, is frequently referred to by our main character. She often comments on the similarities between their life stories and backgrounds but their reactions and behavior in response to events are very different. Miss Steele is at times very critical of Miss Eyre and seeks to avoid the pitfalls she fell into.
Their stories are most definitely similar, both girls are orphaned, end up estranged from their remaining family, attend the most horrendous boarding school to get their education and end up working as governesses, but, while Miss Eyre turns to the spiritual world for guidance and follows a strict moral code, Miss Steele is rather more flexible. She admits herself she has no conscience and will do whatever it takes to get what she wants. If she happens to kill a few people along the way so be it.
“Though I no longer presume to have a conscience, I have never once lacked feelings.”
Despite her claim of having no conscience, I have to admit I absolutely loved Jane Steele as a character. She makes a lot of mistakes over the course of the story but she owns those mistakes, learns from them and is probably harshest on herself. She lies, she cheats and she kills but for those she cares about she’s fiercely loyal, forgiving and will go to any length to protect them.
This need to protect those she cares about and to be loved is first demonstrated in the boarding school where the girls are subjected to constant physical and mental abuse. They’re encouraged to turn on each other by a tyrannical head teacher but while some of her so called friends throw her under the carriage (so to speak) to save their skin, she never does. She’s highly intelligent and quick on her feet so is often able to talk her way out of trouble. When that fails she takes whatever punishment she has to rather than turn on a friend.
While I did enjoy the boarding school scenes what I loved most however was her relationship with Charles Thornfield. He enters her sights when he inherits her former home, one she believes is hers by rights. Jane changes her name and obtains a job as governess for Mr Thornfield so she can investigate but finds herself strangely drawn to her new master.
“It would be inaccurate to say that my heart skipped – nothing whatsoever happened to that poor excuse for an organ. My breath quickened, however, and my hands fretted, and all other outward manifestations, manifested.”
Charles Thornfield is definitely a good match for her. He has a number of eccentricities of his own, a dark past and a number of secrets but with Jane playing a role could they have any hope of a future.
The writing style in this book is very Jane Eyre esque so it took me a while to get into the flow of it but once I did I found it mesmerizing and addictive. I was reading on my kindle so spent a lot of time highlighting quotes and descriptions that I loved.
For the most part the story is well paced (I wasn’t too sure about the London section) and very well written. There is some incredible dialogue and Jane’s voice is captivating. There is also a great sense of time and place which really draws you into the world and the period. What makes it even better is that this shows the darker and more exotic side of Victorian times. In her time in London, Jane stays in the less salubrious parts and mixes with criminals and prostitutes rather than the upper classes.
As a Jane Eyre lover however I have to say I absolutely adored the nods to it within this story. Every chapter starts with an excerpt, Jane refers to her namesake’s actions regularly (mostly disdainfully) but most of all I loved the more subtle references. Lines and scenes lifted almost directly and then flipped and roles reversed or changed. This is a regular occurrence in the scenes with Jane and Charles. One of my favourite scenes is when Jane is thrown from her horse after it spooks on coming across Charles out walking. Her reaction is priceless.
As well as the references to Jane Eyre I also felt like there was a bit of a nod to Sherlock Holmes in there as well. There is a detective investigating the trail of bodies Jane has left in her wake in addition to another mystery around Charles and his ward Sahjara. It does make for a mixture of genres but the author balances them incredibly well and it somehow all works.
In case you can’t tell I absolutely loved this book and would recommend it to everyone. I just wish I could do it justice with my review (it’s so difficult to review a book you love). I have to admit I’ve been pestering everyone I know to read it so I have someone else to gush over it with.
I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review but I think this is a book I will be going out to buy. I’ve already picked it up three or four times since finishing to read read bits here and there and I suspect this will be a regular occurrence.