This was incredibly entertaining and fascinatingly fun to read, but it wasn’t at all what I expected. I think perhaps I’ve read too many Austen fan-fiction novels that fit into one of two molds: modern retelling or prequel/sequel. There are the occasional paranormal/sci-fi mash-ups but mostly they fit within those first two molds. This novel was completely different.
I knew it would be different because the Brontë’s are such different writers, but I wasn’t aware how different it would be in terms of fan-fiction. I’ve only read a few Brontë fan-fiction works, 50% or more of which made me want better stories or better writing. When I reached out to the publisher, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, for a review copy I didn’t quite know what I was getting into, but I’m definitely glad I requested it!*
It’s hard to say what my favorite part was throughout the novel, especially as it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be. I thought it was a re-telling of Jane Eyre and instead it was more a parallel. I really enjoyed Faye’s incorporation of the Sikh religion and cultural aspect. It’s interesting how few novels written in that time period (that have become classics at least) actually discuss the interactions of people who have different religions, nationalities or ethnicity outside of Europe.
After that I would say the sense of place was extraordinary! Faye wrote an excellent London. The way she wrote about it and the way the characters talked about it really embodied the historical mindset of London being the center of the universe. I mean she really could’ve said it about any number of cities, but the specifics of London were just-so that if you’ve been you nodded your head and were like yup that’s what a Londoner says.
This next section has some revelations, but nothing spoiler-y. If you don’t want to know just skip to the recommendation, which doesn’t have any names revealed.
I also have to say I’m glad Faye didn’t stray away from the LGBT characters. About half way through the book I was like um wait a second is this what I think it is, and I later received confirmation! When I read this quote, I’m not going to lie I whooped.
“It was only a brief press, but it was neither dry, nor chaste, nor seeking. It was the kiss of a person who has thought about variants of the same kiss for a very long time, as if it were a hundred kisses, all of them passionate and all of them hopeless. I was startled and—in the moment—grateful enough even to reciprocate, did so before even thinking why I should not, and I tasted years in that kiss. I tasted years of dying hope, and the sweet bellyache of longing, and coffee, and Clarke herself, before she pulled away, running her thumb over my open lips.” (340)
I didn’t whoop because it was a lesbian kiss, I whooped because Clarke took charge and go what she wanted. She finally acknowledged it and was like I’m living my life and this is what you could have had. I mean come on! I want to hear more about Clarke’s story.
There was also a great reference around page 300 where Steele makes an insinuation that another character might be gay. Faye’s writing and characterization was so good that I was both mortified and then immediately giggled because of the awkwardness of the situation for both parties involved.
If I have one complaint about the book, it’s more about the marketing/buzz surrounding the book. I’m not going to lie one of the thoughts going in was that Steele was going to kick-ass as a serial-murderer. Don’t get me wrong, she does and she has good reasons for what she does, but I was expecting there to be a longer list with more reasons. That being said, Faye does leave the idea open that more may occur in Steele’s future after the end of the book.
Recommendation: I thought it was a great read! If you like the Brontës or even just that time period, I would recommend it. Faye’s writing is excellent and I often found myself shocked she included such modern ideas (LGBT characters, diverse religions/ethnicity and strong female characters) and then I had to remind myself this was NOT written in the early 1900s but in the 2010s. Clearly Faye did a great job of seamlessly weaving in these ideas using the language and references of the time.
*I received a copy of this book in return for an honest response. No goods or money were exchanged.
Opening Line: “Of all my many murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important.”
Closing Line: “Charles Thornfield and I are far from perfect; but we are perfect for each other, and perhaps in the end, our chains bind us more closely than anyone who has never been a prisoner can imagine.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)
Additional Quotes from Jane Steele
“Scientists believe that the Earth twirls upon a great pole like a spinning top; this rotational point is theoretically located in the Arctic North, where the land is so desolate and lovely that daylight and nighttime cannot bear to give it up, and trade shifts in six-month intervals. These scientists are mistaken about the Arctic North; for I know in my heart that though the Earth does spin, and spin far too quickly for many of us to bear, London is the centre of the axis.” (42)
“A word of advice: do not ever kill for love, or you will find yourself tethered, staked to the ground when your cleanest instincts require you to run for your life without a backwards glance. Killing for love is one of the most tangled acts you can commit, reader, in an already twisted world.” (96)
“Some cities bustle, some meander, I have read; London blazes, and it incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw. From the instance I arrived there, I loved every smouldering inch of it.” (107)
“By day I taught Sahjara, who brought me unceasing small presents ranging from orange flower cakes to bouquets of jolly red berries; by night, I imagined my employer making the sort of inappropriate advances which would have made most governess flee the estate forthwith, and in graphic detail, complete with bare thighs and calloused fingers and the diagonal notches which rest so sweetly above the hipbones when a gentleman is in training, as I had no doubt whatsoever Mr. Thornfield was.” (228)
“A waiter came with an additional service and poured, a civilised piece of pageantry which enabled us both to pretend we were friends meeting for coffee to discuss our summering plans, rather than friends meeting for coffee to discuss whatever we were going to discuss. My teapot and sandwiches appeared, and I gestured for her to help herself; Clarke shook her head, eyes wide under pale lashes, and I looked away.” (334-335)
“I hope that the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stories.” (415)