Jane Eliot inhabits a world scarred by a recent war with the fey, the supernatural beings responsible for technological achievements like automobiles and electric-type lighting and for inspiring a certain ethereal beauty not found in the human world. Yet the fey have also caused great pain with bombs made of curses, of which Jane is a victim. Jane's curse is concealed and prevented from infecting others by a mask made of iron - she is now an Ironskin, a borderline social pariah. When Jane loses her teaching position after the war, she answers an advertisement for a governess to a child in a "delicate situation" - a child born during the war.
At Silver Birch Hall, an old, dilapidated house situated very near a sinister wood, Jane encounters Dorie, a little girl with fey abilities due to a curse placed on her mother, and Dorie's father, Edward Rochart. Edward is an artist of great talent. And secrecy - rich women with average faces come to Silver Birch Hall, enter Edward's attic studio, and emerge with beautiful faces to rival that of the fey. As Jane draws closer to Edward a confrontation with the fey is inevitable.
If you haven't noticed, Ironskin is a book loosely based on the plot of Jane Eyre. The strange house, an unwanted plain governess, a lonely child, a man with a secret. I really liked the originality that went into building the fey/steampunk-like world, a great plot concept. Yet, there was so much Jane Eyre grafted onto the story (right down to some specific dialogue) that it got distracting. And then it stopped working. I felt like the author let the reader's knowledge of Jane Eyre color the narrative and do the work of building Jane and Edward's relationship without actually doing the work of building her central characters' relationship within the framework of her own created world. When Ironskin finally broke away from Jane Eyre plotwise the characters made much less sense. I didn't have a good sense of them anymore.
The book is obviously meant as a sequel and I am quite interested in reading the next Ironskin book because I wonder what direction it will take in this world Connelly has created. She made an intriguing SF/Fantasy world and I'd like to see what she can do beyond the Jane Eyre skeleton.