Book Review: Copperhead (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, November 16, 2013
Copperhead lives in a Victorian inspired era which dips one toe heartily into the realm of fantasy. Contained within dwell Fey- who previously traded a form of magical electricity to the humans, but then waged and lost a brutal Great War against them- and the dwarvven, who have been relegated to segregated second class citizenry despite pitching in to defeat the Fey. In this world the Fey can possess and take over anyone who has a bit of them inside. The protagonist of Copperhead's predecessor Ironskin, Jane Eliot, was the victim of a Fey bomb during the Great War, thus she had bands of that ferrous metal woven into her skin to keep possession at bay. Her sister Helen is not so fortunate- having had her face surgically replaced with Fey to gain eternal beauty. She and ninety-nine others are forced to enclose their faces in iron masks when outside the confines of an iron protected abode.
And so as the narrative opens, the focus has transitioned from the brash and compelling Jane to the demure, somewhat battered Helen. This is immediately problematic as Helen begins the tale with a spine of jello and a penchant for adhering to Victorian high class social norms. Her drunken, abusive husband and his hooligan pals bully anyone opposed to them, which becomes increasingly problematic as they form a human supremacy group with the ear of the prime minster. Helen's internal monologue is frighteningly vivid in a manner similar to Stockholm Syndrome- she takes the abuse, rationalizing it away inside as necessary or societally proper. While her character arc provides her room to grow, and she does, the bulk of narrative real estate is spent inside the the head of a repressed abuse victim. This may be of interest for some, but is not at all this reviewer's bread and butter.
The thrust of Helen's adventure revolves around finding her lost sister, who holds the key to restoring the hundred's non-Fey faces (and thus their freedom from overbearing husbands who keep them locked away for their "safety"). This misadventure introduces her to bohemians, vagabonds, and the downtrodden, while embroiling her in a whodunit for the fate of humanity. Along the way she becomes enamoring in a romance with the unlikeliest of bedfellows. While the ultimate resolution is cool in a magic meets steampunk sort of way, it isn't all that shocking of a reveal.
For as problematic as the protagonist is, Copperhead comes furnished with strong, enjoyable prose. Tina Connolly has a wonderful way with words, such that the pages seem to float by with no metric for their passing. The world that she's constructed is intriguing and offers so much potential for fascinating stories (it's a sad thing that her battered protagonist here is such a turn off). Still the inventive locales, unique racial composition and interplay, and final act are compelling, and may tickle the fancy of gothic fantasy fans.
Chuck Francisco is a columnist and critic for Mania, writing Wednesday's Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a co-curator of several repertoire film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA. You can hear him drop nerd knowledge on weekly podcast You've Got Geek or think him a fool of a Took on Twitter.
Mania Grade: C
Author: Tina Connolly
Book Series: Ironskin
Genre: Gothic Fantasy
Format: Hardcover, 320pps