[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I have a weak spot both for retellings and for “Jane Eyre”, so no wonder I'd request this novel. And it turned out to be fairly interesting, although it's more “inspired by” than an actual “retelling”, and at times my attention waned a little—not sure if it's because of the book or just me being myself, that is, with the attention span of a dead amoeba. Also, I don't why, I had forgotten that the novel was set in the 19th century, and was surprised at first that it wasn't set in some contemporary UK. Dead amoeba, I tell you.
Jane Steele, who incidentally is an avid re-reader of the original “Jane Eyre” story, is, like her heroine, an orphan surrounded with a hostile family that mocks her at best and generally despises her. Her mother being an artist and a laudanum-addict doesn't exactly help. However, unlike Jane Eyre, Miss Steele early enough takes matters into her own hands by despatching those who are in her way. These aren't just random murders committed by a psychopath, though, and her victims aren't exactly goody-two-shoes. Jane is actually trying to protect the people she really loves, not obeying some dark unexplained instincts. And so this brings quite a few questions about whether killing might be seen as “justified” in some cases, or not? After all, so many people kill others in wars, and it's seen as “justified” and not “murder” because “it's for your country”... so why wouldn't “it's for love” be good enough a reason either?
And there you have it. There are killings in this novel, yet they come second to complex relationships among very different people. Thornfield and his Sikh family. The girls at Lowan School, united in misery through a perverse net of betrayal and friendships disguised as hate (unless it's the contrary?). Jane and her cousin who could so very well end up raping her. Jane and her mother, and these two and Aunt Patience, because there must be a reason for the latter to despise them so much.
There were a few funny moments, especially when the inspector was concerned—well, I did find them funny, especially with Jane constantly trying to escape him. And I also liked the way assault/rape was handled, as it turns out not so many characters in there blame the lady, and do think instead that, yes, she's not the one at fault at all.
To be honest, I preferred the first part of the novel, with Jane's years at school with the other girls. The plot in the second part was nice, but... the pacing and the setting in general were less thrilling (which is too bad, for Sardar and the others provided characters and a setting that screamed “badass”)... not to mention that, in spite of the inclusion of a large cast of Sikh people, in the end what could have broken the typical colonialist/jingoist mould of many Victorian-era stories just didn't do that. (It's still about white people finding happiness, and the non-white ones kind of get the shaft.)
As for the romance, of course it was meant to mirror the one in “Jane Eyre”, in a fashion, however I never really felt any chemistry between Jane and Charles: it felt more as if they were destined to end up together because Brontë's characters did, and not because of their traits as people.
Conclusion: I really liked the beginning, so I'm still giving this book 3 stars. The second half and ending didn't do much for me, though.