by Lynsday Faye
Published on March 22, 2016
by G.P. Putnam's Sons
Synopsis from Goodreads: A sensitive orphan, Jane Steele suffers first at the hands of her spiteful aunt and predatory cousin, then at a grim school where she fights for her very life until escaping to London, leaving the corpses of her tormentors behind her. After years of hiding from the law while penning macabre “last confessions” of the recently hanged, Jane thrills at discovering an advertisement. Her aunt has died and her childhood home has a new master: Mr. Charles Thornfield, who seeks a governess.My take: First off, I do think this should have been called "Jane Slayer." Then again, maybe that's too campy a title for a book that's ended up being a pretty intellectual retelling, in spite of the gore.
Burning to know whether she is in fact the rightful heir, Jane takes the position incognito, and learns that Highgate House is full of marvelously strange new residents—the fascinating but caustic Mr. Thornfield, an army doctor returned from the Sikh Wars, and the gracious Sikh butler Mr. Sardar Singh, whose history with Mr. Thornfield appears far deeper and darker than they pretend. As Jane catches ominous glimpses of the pair’s violent history and falls in love with the gruffly tragic Mr. Thornfield, she faces a terrible dilemma: can she possess him—body, soul, and secrets—without revealing her own murderous past?
Jane Steele seemed to have two parts: the first third or so was more bildungsroman, featuring a young Jane who, instead of seething internally about having to endure heartless relatives and a cruel boarding school, becomes a serial murderer. As a big Jane Eyre fan, I was happy that this serial killer thing wasn't over-the-top or silly. Instead, Jane's crimes served to highlight the fact that nineteenth century women were often completely at the mercy of others -- socially, financially, educationally, romantically. Jane's murders made her seem more like a secret super-hero than a psychopath.
The second part of the book deals with Jane's return to Highgate House, her work as a governess, and her budding romance with Mr. Thornfield. This part of the book felt more like a Jane Eyre retelling, featuring a plot enriched with new and updated themes: the British Occupation of India, a group of men who served together in the Punjab, a variety of tangled personal and romantic relationships, and a missing treasure. Some readers may indeed feel that all this slowed down the narrative considerably. I was skeptical at first (and sometimes confused) but I ended up liking this overall.
tl;tr: This had a bit of a feel of two books in one, and you may find yourself preferring one half over the other (the first part if you like fast-paced action and gore and the second if you are a fan of nineteenth century novels and British history). Or maybe you'll be like both!