Sunday, February 28, 2016

Jane Steele

Five stars aren't enough--can I borrow some from elsewhere?  Eight, ten stars, a dozen or more; Lyndsay Faye's Jane Steele was so much fun.

So, the blurb I first read on Netgalley sells it as Jane Eyre meets Dexter, and while I only know the basics about Dexter, this both drew me in and made me skeptical.  The first couple of pages had me a bit worried, too, because the narrator talks about how she became a murderer early in life, and about her vile nature. But at that point, I had a review copy in hand, so I plunged boldly ahead.

Now, I'm all about a good antihero, but I also tend to think a lot about collateral damage in my media.  One of the things I loved about Daredevil and Jessica Jones is how it deals with the fallout of all the big battles from The Avengers.  One of the things that bugs me about a lot of fanfiction is how it glosses over how truly cruel and damaging the much-loved bad guys are when it wants them to get with our favorite love interests.  They're bad guys because they hurt people, and often don't regret it; I can enjoy them as characters without wanting them to get their way.

So I was worried from the beginning about whether I was going to like Jane Steele, but oh, Reader, did I ever.  It's true that Jane kills a number of people, but she is not a sociopath into whose head you're trying to see--she is a human being who is often in untenable situations, in a world where she has little recourse.  This is exactly the kind of moral complexity I love in a story.

If you wrote a very rough outline of the plot of the book Jane Eyre, you would have the bones of this story--brought up in a house where she is the unwanted cousin/niece, sent away to a terrible school, left with few options in life and fending for herself, taking a job as a governess in a house with a gruff, socially odd master...well, you see. 

But you only have to take a small step closer before the details change dramatically.  Jane is clever and practical, and she has her own strict code of ethics, even while she understands that by the morals of society, she is evil.  And on some level she believes herself so; this tension is one of my favorite parts of the book. 

There is lots of other tension, too.  The author does a marvelous job of teasing each twist, pointing out just where she should have let well enough alone, or enjoyed herself while she could.  Sometimes that kind of flourish bothers me, but here I had enough trust early enough that this just kept me running for the next of fate's cruel tricks.

Our heroine is also, in a rather charming twist, a huge fan of the novel Jane Eyre, which has just been published. She sees the parallels and chuckles over them, especially when Miss Eyre has an easier time of things than Miss Steele ever did.

When Jane finally meets Charles Thornfield (our cleverly-named Mr. Rochester stand-in, who is much less creepy and condescending than the actual Mr. Rochester), the plot becomes more concentrated, and the backstory of the other characters--all circling around the Sikh Rebellion and the wars in the Punjab in the mid 19th century--becomes the driving force of the plot.  By this point, though, Jane's heart belongs very straightforwardly where she's given it, and we are following her wherever she takes us.

And everywhere she goes is delightful indeed.  I love her clever pragmatism, I love her grit and fire, and I love how she believes herself to be bad but still finds herself doing good, almost without believing it.  This book was an absolute pleasure to read, and I've already added Lyndsay Faye's previous books to my to-read list.  You should absolutely read this book.

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