Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye, was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons on March 22, 2016. I received an ARC from NetGalley.
Having spilled my love for all things Austen in my Eligible review, it should come as no surprise that I also love the Brontes. Much like Jane Steele, the eponymous heroine of the novel, I re-read Jane Eyre on a regular basis. I mention this because Jane Steele is a reimagining of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Unlike Eligible, it is not a direct retelling of the original novel; Jane Steele exists in a universe where Jane Eyre also exists. Jane Steele frequently compares her own life to Jane Eyre’s (and the overall shape of the novels are similarly, although not identically structured), and chapters start with snippets from Jane Eyre. The difference? Jane Steele is a murderer.
The first part of the book is extraordinary. Jane Steele’s voice is gripping and the novel grows quite harrowing as Jane suffers cruelties at the hands of her relations and later the truly creepy headmaster of the boarding school she attends. Jane Steele takes a narrative dip away from Jane Eyre as Steele leaves school for the mean streets of London, while Eyre heads straight for Thornfield Hall.
Steele eventually heads to her own version of Thornfield Hall, although there’s a twist. The house where she’s to become a governess is the same house where she grew up. It’s also the house her mother may (or may not) have secured as Jane’s inheritance. The setup for the second part of the book is exciting – Jane lives under an assumed name and soon gets drawn into a series of mysteries at the house, all the while battling her own growing attraction for the rugged and dashing (read: hot but in an unconventional way) master of the house.
And….the book goes a little flat. The events in the second half of the book should be exciting. The mystery deepens, there are backstories involving everyone’s past days in India, there are falls from horses, spirited wards, nighttime intruders and just what are they building in that cellar? (DON’T GO INTO THE CELLAR!)
And yet it’s still flat. The mysteries and backstories never capture my attention, which is too bad, because I appreciate the diversity of characters at the house (most of the characters are Sikh). The cellar isn’t as mysterious as initially promised and even the nighttime intruders don’t seem so bad. Jane talks about being anxious if everyone learns her secrets, but I never got the sense that the consequences would be catastrophic. What should have been a major source of tension fell, well, flat.