Book review: Copperhead by Tina Connolly (Tor Books, 2013)
Helen Huntingdon is beautiful – so beautiful she has to wear an iron mask.
Six months ago, her sister, Jane, uncovered a fey plot to take over the city. Too late for Helen, who opted for fey beauty – and now has to cover her face with iron so she won’e be taken over, her personality erased by the bodiless fey.
Not that Helen would mind that some days. Stuck in a marriage with the wealthy and controlling Alistair, she lives at the edges of her life, secretly helping Jane remove the dangerous fey beauty from the wealthy society women who paid for it. But when the chancy procedure turns deadly, Jane goes missing – and is implicated in a murder.
Meanwhile, Alistairs influential clique Copperhead – whose emblem is the poisonous copperhead hydra – is out to restore humans to their “rightful” place, even to the point of destroying the dwarvven who have always been allies.
Helen is determined to find her missing sister, as well as continue the good fight against the fey. But when that pits her against her own husband – and when she meets an enigmatic young revolutionary – she’s pushed to discover how far she’ll bend society’s rules to do what’s right. It may be more than beauty at stake. It may be her honor … and her heart.
Copperhead is the sequel to Ironskin, and like its predecessor, it’s inspired by a Brontë novel. Ironskin was a steampunk-esque take on Charlotte’s Jane Eyre, while Copperhead is inspired by Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. The name “Helen Huntingdon” is a dead giveaway for this, but I didn’t realise that when I first started reading.
After a while certain elements of the story began to feel rather familiar. For starters, Helen marries Alistair, a man she’s in love with and she thinks loves her – his mileage may vary. When married he turns out to be less than sympathetic, and his choice of friends is questionable, to say the least. There’s even a young boy whom Alistair and his friends ply with drink.
While some elements are similar, the actual story itself is completely different from Tenant.
We’re back in the world where the humans are at war with the fey. The Copperhead organisation are essentially Nazis (“one people, one race” sounds sort of familiar, doesn’t it?) and do their best to weasel themselves into power.
On the one hand, Helen is a society belle with a wealthy husband who’s a Copperhead member. On the other, she’s the sister of a woman trying to strip everyone of the beautiful, transplanted faces before they’re taken over by fey, and Helen is uncomfortable with Copperhead’s anti-dwarvven politics. Throughout the book, Helen struggles with these two identities: the shallow Mrs Huntingdon who only cares about looking beautiful and wearing the most fashionable clothes, and Helen, the resourceful but inexperienced freedom fighter.
As characters go, I found Jane more sympathetic than Helen, so reading a book where Helen takes centre stage is frustrating, at times. In a sort of “stop worrying about getting your skirt dirty and GET ON WITH IT!” kind of way.
On the other hand, the things I found frustrating about Ironskin, like the abrupt ending, didn’t feature here. When I had reached the end, if anything I wondered if there would be another part to the story, but I don’t know. On the one hand, it was resolved, but on the other … maybe not. I don’t know. (EDIT: There’s a third part, Silverblind.)
At any rate, I thought the book was well-written, I really like the world setting (it’s never specified by name what city it is, or even which country, but it has a British sort of feel to it), and Frye is a great character. Actually, let’s hope there’s a third book and that it stars her!
If you enjoyed Ironskin and wanted more, you should definitely read Copperhead, because it’s good fun.
4.5 out of 5 jars with bugs in.
Copperhead in hardcover and Kindle edition and is undoubtedly available in all major bookshops.
Many thanks to the friendly folks at Tor Books for providing a review copy of this book!