I absolutely adored Ironskin by Tina Connolly, found Copperhead a mite disturbing, with its inhabited faces and blindly privileged ladies, and wasn't sure where I'd stand with this last book in the trilogy, which, though a conclusions of sorts, actually stands on its own. (You will enjoy it more if you read the other two books first, as minor characters in this last novel have their stories fleshed out there, but it is NOT necessary.) I was pleasantly surprised by this trilogy conclusion, though I don't think this is "the end" of this world just yet. Because our first look at this world is in the wake of a terrible war, I'm fairly sure the author has a few war stories up her sleeve. But, for now, the tale is finished. And it's another story which is by turns familiar and strange - much like the fey themselves...
Summary:Adora "Dorie" Rochart, whom we first met as an eerie child in Ironskin, is now a young college graduate, struggling through the parallel 1930's British world of avant garde bohemian artists, sexism, and struggling social idealism, keeping her half-fey side under wraps. She's a starving idealist herself - got a degree in cryptozoology and letters of recommendation, but no one's hiring girls, not for field work, not while women can still be kept from certain pubs. It's still a brave new world, though, the new world they all fought for, right? The fey are gone, and it's safe to ignore and condescend to women again. In desperate straits - and well out of rent money - Dorie dips deeply into her fey and becomes Dorian, a rugged boy scientist. After finding a gig to hunt wyvern eggs for a notoriously awful man, Dorian is saved from the job by saving a hapless scientist in the field -- Tam Grimsby, her childhood friend, whom she betrayed so hideously so many years ago. A girl named Dorie is Tam's nemesis, but a guy called Dorian... can love Tam from afar, and work with him every day, with him never the wiser. Too bad about that icy cold Annika, though. These things never end well, and Dorian knows it, but ...
Soon, everyone's searching for wyvern eggs, risking life and limb in field work, but why? Finding out what the Queen's Lab wants with the wyvern eggs puts Dorie into a spin. It's already not right to be hunting wyvern and imbalancing the natural ecology, but for that!? Horrified and determined to undermine the Lab and change the fate of the fey, Dorie drags Tam into her plans - plans which could have them imprisoned, as the Crown steps in to arrest those social idealists who protest and publicly speak out against a tightening royal regime. Eyes are everywhere, and time is running out on Dorie's disguise, too. When a paralyzing choice - in more ways than one - stands before her, Dorie has no choice but to strip away what she is to keep who is important to her.
Peaks: People talk a great deal about "strong female characters," and though the cover model (with the very wrong hair - those are not ringlets!) wearing trousers is meant to evoke the gender-swapping which goes on in the novel, it's also an ironic twist on the facts of the novel: that it's about an unattainably beautiful girl -- beautified through fey magic, just as cover models are beautified via Photoshoppery. I appreciate so much that there are consequences to Dorie donning trousers - it's not an easy shift, it's not flawless and she doesn't have entirely all of the advantages of the male sex. She examines herself and her gender from the other side of the fence, and finds that there are benefits to being herself - this is a rare conclusion in novels where the woman dresses like a man; usually she's just found out and succumbs to the man and puts on pants again. Where's the fun in that? There were multiple strong women in this novel - Jack and Stella are amazing co-stars in this tour de force, as they make their way through whatever means they can into the adult world. They find ways to be true to themselves that work.
The tale of Tam Lim is the tale of a woman rescuing her true love from the queen of the fairies by holding onto him, no matter what form he took. The author hints at this symbolism with the climax of this story, as Dorie finally makes a major choice -- with her whole heart, she holds onto her humanity, and her beloved Tam, and lets all else go. The kind of choices we make when we don't know the outcome are the ones which say who we really are, and in the end, Dorie chose love over gifts.
The strengths of this series have been the subtle way in which the author uses fairytales and classic literature to reframe the conversation about sexism, women's rights, identity, and gender roles. Though there are matters of the heart in this novel, romance is the least important part of the plot -- forgiveness and friendship and owning who you really are come higher in the ranking, which is a pleasant surprise. Dorie's friends are bohemian and diverse - mixed with fey blood or dwarven in race; fully human and lesbian, ironskinned and surviving - and each is someone trusted and held dear. They all struggle in various ways against the "man's world" in which they find themselves, whether "the man" in this case is the increasingly intolerant government or actual men - and find that the best way to be free is to be true to themselves -- though, sometimes there are consequences young idealists haven't imagined.
Valleys: I found myself as taken by this book as I was the first in this series -- I preferred the "romance" here much more than the one in Copperhead, since Dorian's choices mean that the reader doesn't lose a strong woman. Though it might begin slowly for some readers and become a little plot-heavy, while for others who have read the entire trilogy, the timeline jump from the early 1900's all the way to the 1930's might be hard to swallow, there are no real valleys here.
Conclusion: A thought-provoking final novel in the Ironskin trilogy where it's not always the boys who have all the fun, this novel is a good read for a warm early autumn afternoon.
I received my copy of this book courtesy of Tor. After October 7th, you can find SILVERBLIND by Tina Connolly at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!