To say I was hesitant about reading Jane Steele is a bit of an understatement. Yes, we had a few glowing, wonderful reviews from ElCicco and yesknopemaybe, and that should have been enough to convince me. But last year I read Jane, a modern retelling of Jane Eyre, and I hated it. HATED IT. I was wary about getting myself into another Jane Eyre story. But this isn’t a retelling of the classic, its more of an homage. And it kicks ass.
I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that this is going to be one of the Cannonball books of the year. There’s just too much to love for it not to become a favorite.
Jane Steele is a young woman in Victorian (I guess? The time is quite vague) England who loves the novel Jane Eyre and finds many similarities between herself and Bronte’s young heroine. Except, mostly, the fact that Jane Steele is a 5-time murderess. And, as far as I am aware, Jane Eyre had committed zero murders.
Jane Steele spends her early life living with her beautiful (and somewhat crazy) French mother in a cottage on an estate that she is told she will someday inherit. Jane doesn’t understand the intricacies or the legalities of this promise, but she always keeps the fact that Highgate House is legally her property in the back of her mind. When young Jane is orphaned, it is proposed that she will leave the estate where her horrible aunt and even more horrible cousin Edwin currently live, and be sent to one of those awfully tragic girls schools.
And thus, young Jane’s future as a killer is set in motion.
Yes, Jane heads off to the school, and it is every bit as awful as you might imagine. And even worse, as the headmaster is pretty much the devil. But Jane finds some goodness there, in the form of Clarke, a younger girl, left at the school by her wealthy, bohemian parents.
Jane and Clarke have adventures both at the school, and later, in London. When they sever their relationship, Jane is devastated, and nearly hits rock bottom. Until she sees an ad in the newspaper looking for a governess as Highgate House.
And Reader, this is when the book goes from really good to great.
Lyndsay Faye has created an amazing heroine in Jane Steele. Yes, Jane has done some bad things. Really terrible things. And yet, you can’t not root for her. You want nothing but the best for her and everyone in her life.
The supporting cast was also a delight. Charles Thornfield could go right up there with Captain Wentworth as a dashing romantic hero, as far as I’m concerned. Sardar Singh, Inspector Quillfeather, and the rest of the Thornfield household were also colorful, dynamic characters that I wanted to know more about. I loved the little details that we learned about these people. For instance, how Inspector Quillfeather always spoke in questions, or why the Sikh traditions and customs were so important to Charles and Sardar.
And the writing was top-notch. Not only was I on the edge of my seat for the last hundred pages, there were times when I actually laughed out loud. Like this exchange between Jane and her opium-addicted roommate:
“Lived at a place named Highgate House!” Tilly teased. “Well, I never. Ye was a genuine lady, like, with silks and velvets and a stick up your arse.”
“No velvets. No silks.” I folded the paper.
“But the stick?”
“Of course. They equip us with bum sticks from the cradle.”
Reader, I loved this book and am sad I had to finish it.