I received a copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
“We tell stories to strangers to ingratiate ourselves, stories to lovers to better adhere us skin to skin, stories in our heads to banish the demons. When we tell the truth, often we are callous; when we tell lies, often we are kind. Through it all, we tell stories, and we own an uncanny knack for the task”.
(About London) “It’s filthy and wet and hides a brutal soul behind majestic walls. Its people are alternatively snobbish or base, and if I didn’t come from a culture of warriors, I’d say it was the most savage city I’d ever seen. I thought it glorious, of course, from the instant it sullied my boots”.
“Grief is a strange passenger; it rides on one’s shoulder quiet as a guardian angel one moment, then sinks razor talons into one’s collarbones the next”.
Jane Steele is a Victorian Jane Eyre fan whose fate is, so far, remarkably like her beloved heroine’s. Her parents are dead, and she’s living with her dreadful aunt and a slimeball of a cousin. Since her mother has committed suicide, Jane has few chances of succeeding, so she is sent away to a boarding school, just like Jane Eyre. She befriends a girl named Clarke but soon learns that even the strongest of friendships can perish – that’s how cruel Headmaster Munt is. And Jane’s string of murders begin. Or perhaps they’ve begun even earlier? Was her cousin really in an accident?
After Jane and Clarke flee the school, they find temporary employment with a writer, that also ends soon. Desperate to make a living, Jane penetrates the London underbelly – “London blazes and incinerates. London is the wolf’s maw”. Murder and prostitution become her constant companions. Until one day she sees an advertisement in the paper for a governess for the master of her old home. She takes the position, hoping to secure the home for herself, and find herself enchanted by its new inhabitants – Mr. Charles Thornfield and his ward Sahjara. But they are surrounded by mysteries and, as their sinister past lets itself be known, Jane begins to lose hope and to fear that they’ll discover her own wicked secrets. Will Jane ever find a home and leave her past behind, or is she doomed to be a murderer forever? And will she find peace and figure out her feelings for Charles and her attraction to Clarke that never wavered?
As you’ve probably gathered, “Jane Steele” is a retelling of everyone’s favourite feminist classic “Jane Eyre” – with a murderous twist. As fond as I am of original Victorian feminist survival stories like Louisa Cosgrove’s, I love good retellings of classics just as much. “Jane Steele” is a well-told story of survival, and endurance. Ultimately, it’s a story of a woman who takes charge of her own life, despite the constraints of the times and the horrors bestowed upon her by men. Men in this book are quite vile, in fact – except Charles Thornfield and his very endearing and badass “butler”. Jane Steele has plenty of badassery of her own and takes care of the ones she loves – just like the two decent guys in the book. The characters don’t know that until the end, but their methods of “caring” about their loved ones are more similar than either of them suspect.
One of my few issues with the book is the language. I get that the author was trying to “old-fashion” the text as much as possible. And it worked, to an extend. The descriptions of London and Highgate (Jane’s old home) are quite atmospheric, but at times I felt that overusage of Victorian language was a little excessive. It doesn’t distract much from the overall plot, but those of you who love Jane Eyre like I do might not appreciate it.
Jane Steele is, an essence, a bisexual vigilante. As there are so few of those in literature, I of course appreciate the representation. As a bisexual person, I felt that the author has definitely painted Jane’s sexuality well, given the constraints of the time. And given the Londoners’ classic habit of really not caring about the passersby, they probably wouldn’t have cared even back then about a woman kissing another woman on the street. And kudos to the author for showing that a bisexual person can have a fulfilling relationship with a man.
In general, I enjoyed “Jane Steele” – it is a decent retelling, which I’m happy to give 7/10.
You might like “Jane Steele” if you liked:
“The Fair Fight” by Anna Freeman;
“The Flight of Gemma Hardy” by Margot Livesey;
“Re Jane” by Patricia Park.
Have you read “Jane Steele”? What are your favourite Jane Eyre retellings? Tell me in the comments and don’t forget to stop by my Etsy charity shop!