And Then The Killings Began — A Review of Jane Steele

Gather children, I have quite the bedtime story for you this blogening (that’s blog + evening.  See what I did there?)

I’m behind the times on this one, since it was published about a year ago.  I was too busy reading about hockey players and CEO’s with hearts of gold and man-hoods of—well, never mind. A blog for another time perhaps.

This last month I did a lot of rereads.  (I can’t help it, Goodreads gives us credit for them now.) I reread one of my favorite YA dystopian series, the Shatter Me Trilogy, by Tahereh Mafi, (totally recommend that one if you haven’t discovered it already, it’s like X-Men meets Mocking Jay) and more to point for this blog I reread Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte.  Which takes me now, to the object of ye old blog today.

Jane Steele 3
Jane Steele, an Eyre Satire by Lyndsay Faye, has been on my radar since October when I bought it for my BFF in Writing/Reading Shenanigan’s birthday.  She read it this month too and immediately insisted I follow in her footsteps.

I read it in two sittings.  The first, a brief hundred page sitting that involved a comfy chair, a moment of idle free time and an obscene amount of  Cheez-its.  As for the second sitting, I consumed the remainder of the novel in a maniac, bleary-eyed all-nighter kind of state.  I read this damn novel like I was going to be quizzed on it the next day.  If I failed the quiz, the girl from the Ring would crawl out of the pages and strangle me with her scary hair.

Jane Steele starts her autobiography as a young girl at the age of six, whose French mother, ostracized from polite society, and clearly suffering from manic depression, eventually succumbs to a laudanum overdose.  Jane’s Aunt Patience (who hates Jane and her mother) threatens to send her to boarding school.  Jane resists until after her cousin Edwin attacks and tries to have his way with her. Jane pushes him into a ravine and kills him.  Thus, the tale begins: “Reader, I murdered him.”

            “If I must go to hell to find my mother again, so be it:  I will be another embodied disaster.  But I will be a beautiful disaster.” ~Lyndsay Faye

The Book continues around ca. 410 pages of Jane Steele navigating, first, her mother’s death (which subsequently haunts her for the entirety of the novel), then into the most atrocious boarding school imaginable.  After, she then escapes into the lonely, dirty streets of London, and then finally to the return to the home of her childhood, Highgate House after Jane learns her aunt is dead.  There is a new owner, one Charles Thornfield.  Jane lies her way into the household, becoming a governess for Thornfield’s ward, Sahjara, all the while secretly plotting to prove the house actually belongs to her.  Things don’t quite go as planned.  There’s a secret treasure, a forbidden basement, and the mysterious fact that Thornfield never takes off his gloves.

            “Though I no longer presumed to have a conscience, I have never once lacked feelings.”  ~Lyndsay Faye

Jane’s beginnings are interesting and oddly hypnotizing as she navigates her childhood and adolescence through her morbid point of view.  I don’t think it would be much of a spoiler to reveal that Miss Steele becomes quite the accomplished serial killer

Dexter at his most punny.

in her short life.  I started the novel wondering how this would be accomplished, but of course anyone who has ever watched the show, Dexter, (or read the novels they’re based off of) knows that even serial killers can be endeared antiheros.  This book, which is very much Jane Eyre meets Sweeny Todd (without the music, of course) delivers quite a disturbingly relatable narrator.  The book is written savagely, and therein lies its gothic appeal.  It’s morbidly tragic and that’s what makes it not only appealing, but beautiful.  Jane’s voice is steady, intelligent and full of feeling.  The prose kept me turning the page even after it was four-thirty in the morning and I could barely see.


            “Some tragedies bind us, as lies do; they are ropes braided of hurt and bitterness, and you cannot ever fully understand how pinioned you are until the ties are loosened.” ~Lyndsay Faye

Then, just when you’re starting to understand Miss Steele and her murderously independent (for the time-period especially) ways, Charles Thornfield is introduced.  Anyone who has read Jane Eyre probably has an inkling of the turn the novel takes from that point.  However, I found myself underwhelmed by the romance in general.  Don’t get me wrong, everything that Thornfield says and does is awesome (amazing, flawless, perfect, really I could keep going).  Faye very much eliminates some of the motivational flaws that a more discerning reader could take fault with in Rochester.  Rochester, if you strip him down, is a grumpy, deceitful, selfish bigamist.  I forgave him this fact simply because by the time he grants Jane Eyre his full confession, you see him as not only helpless to cure his current circumstances, but hopelessly in love with Jane.  Charles Thornfield isn’t helpless, and he’s more than just hopeless.  He’s tortured.  His past eats at him, and (spoiler, kinda) it has nothing to do with adultery.  Still, by the time Jane Steele meets Thornfield, her life has already been quite an adventure.  Their witty repertoire, while entertaining, lacked emotional impact for me due to everything else going on in the book.  The romance, though it does have its moments (and trust me, they’re grand) is overshadowed.  I feel that gist of their mutual need for one another is embodied in this quote:

            “… we are doers of deeds, he and I, and as such lose parts of our flesh along the way, and can only pray to meet friends and lovers who can help to stitch us back again, and that we can make them whole in turn.”  ~Lyndsay Faye

Their relationship is very much about mutual understanding rather than desperate need.  I guess what I’m trying to say is don’t read this book for the romance.  Read it for the murder, and the intrigue, the mystery, the mild-mannered and extremely polite constable turned detective, and most surprisingly, the history.  Jane Steel features a lot of the British Empire’s relationship with India at the time.  I don’t know how much of it is historically accurate, all I can say is that it feels researched (but not in a terribly boring way I promise).  If you want the giddy romance, read Jane Eyre.  If you want serial murder and female empowerment in a gothic setting, this book is for you.

Learn more about Lyndsay Faye here.  She has a blog!  She is an actress, has adorably named cats and is obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.  I totally understand that obsession, though I have to admit I’m probably more obsessed with Benedict Cumberbatch.

what’s not to obsess over?

I shall leave you with this gem of a quote from Jane Steele which made my writer brain sing and my reader heart swell:

            “I hope the epitaph of the human race when the world ends will be: Here perished a species which lived to tell stores.

“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 truth, 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.”

sleepy gargoyle demands this of you

Oh, one last note before I go.  You do not have to read Jane Eyre in order to enjoy Jane Steele, but I highly recommend it as it will add to your reading experience.  Jane Steele treats her literary doppleganger as somewhat of a personal hero and often quotes her and refers to Eyre’s tragic tale of woe as she recounts her own.  Honestly, just read Jane Eyre for the sake of reading it.  It’s an awesome book.