Best Book of the Week!
Fans of Lyndsay Faye’s Timothy Wilde trilogy (I am one) have undoubtedly been looking forward to Jane Steele, which she describes as a riff on Jane Eyre. In this novel, which Faye dedicates to “Miss Eyre and Mr. Nickleby,” Jane Steele describes her life as one very similar to Jane Eyre’s, only with an important difference—Jane Steele is a serial killer.
At the beginning of the novel, Jane is nine or ten years old, living in a cottage with her mother on the grounds of Highgate House. Although her mother has told her Highgate House belongs to her, it is occupied by her Aunt Patience Barbary and her cousin Edwin. Mrs. Barbary hates Jane and her mother, and after her mother’s death from an overdose of some opiate, Mrs. Barbary wastes no time in preparing to ship Jane off to Lowan Bridge School, run by Mr. Vesalius Munt. But before that can happen, Edwin tries to rape Jane, who pushes him off a cliff to his death. Terrified by the perspicacious Constable Quillfeather, Jane goes meekly to school.
It is difficult to know how much to reveal in this review, but suffice it to say that almost every action in Jane Eyre is echoed in some way in Jane Steele, but always with a twist. Mr. Munt is, if anything, a worse sadist and hypocrite than the headmaster of Lowood School. Jane Steele has a dear friend in the school, Rebecca Clarke, who comes close to dying, but when Mr. Munt offers Jane a choice between further starving Clarke or agreeing to be sent to an asylum, Jane instead chooses to stab him with a letter opener. Jane being sixteen by then, she and Clarke run off to London.
Eventually, Jane meets her Mr. Rochester when she forges credentials as a governess to go work at Highgate House. There she hopes to search for proof of her mother’s claim that the house belongs to her. She finds herself in an unusual environment. The house belongs to Mr. Charles Thornfield, a nephew of Patience Barbary. Her charge is a little Sikh girl named Sahjara, and the entire household is Sikh. This household has its own secrets, to do with the betrayal of the Khaba, the Sikh military, by its own leaders.
This novel is a romping good read, full of adventure. It features a missing treasure, secret identities, several oily villains, and the resurrection of the heroine’s self-esteem. Yes, Jane kills five men. Do we still like her? Absolutely. I think you’re going to love this book.