Fantasy isn’t usually a genre I read however, my friend told me about this book, so I thought I would give it a go. As a fan of Jane Eyre I was worried about how I would react to this modern involvement of her. I actually was surprised as I really enjoyed this book. There’s something quite gripping about it.
The novel has a strong historical background. It is set in a parallel universe. England and Imperial Russia have fought the Crimean War for over a century. England are heavily influenced by the Goliath Corporation – a very powerful weapon producing company, with a blind attitude to morals.
The book’s fictional version of Jane Eyre ends with Jane Eyre leaving with her cousin, St. John Rivers, to India in order to help him with his missionary work. Literary questions are debated so hotly that they inspire gang wars and murder. The question of Shakespearean authorship is debated throughout the novel. To help deal with these specialised areas, new agencies were created. These were called SpecOps with more than 20 branches, including SpecOps 12, who police all the events related to time travel, and SpecOps 27, the LiteraTecs who deal with literature related crime.
The Crimean War rages on, but and outright battle has been avoided for many years. The war is being fought just on principle, with each side being too stubborn to call for peace. Meanwhile, Goliath is contracted to make a new handheld weapon, a plasma rifle – code name Stonk. Obviously, this threatens bloodshed as the power of this could destroy a tank in a single shot, with the Russians having no equivalent. The history included in this novel is well described and creates an effective back drop to the plot. Sometimes it’s easy to get stuck and bogged down into the historical details, but I didn’t get that with this novel.
The novel focuses around 36 year old Thursday Next. She lives in London with her pet dodo, Pickwick. She is against the war as her brother was killed and her then lover, Landen Parke-Laine, lost a leg in combat. There is a repeated sense of anguish and tension here as Landen claims her brother made a mistake, yet her brother isn’t given life, or a voice to clear his name. Their relationship ended because of the tension with the war. “Maybe those sorts of yes-or-no life-and-death decisions are easier to make because they are so black and white. I can cope with them because it’s easier. Human emotions, well. . .they’re just a fathomless collection of grays and I don’t do so well on the midtones.”
To start Thursday is temporarily promoted to assist in the capture of a well known and wanted terrorist, Acheron Hades, her former university professor. He is a mysterious criminal mastermind and the police have no photos of him. Therefore, Thursday is the only one who can recognise him. Thursday does come close to capturing him, however it is soon learnt that Hades has several superhuman abilities, such as mental manipulation and extreme durability – gun shots appear to bounce off him. Thursday’s team is killed and she is also shot. Her life is saved by a copy of Jane Eyre that stops Hades’ bullet.
A mysterious stranger stays with her until the paramedics arrive, leaving her with a monogrammed handkerchief, with the letters E.F.R. and a 19th century style jacket. Thursday instantly knows the initials and the items therefore belong to Edward Fairfax Rochester. Time jumps back and Thursday tells us about how she experienced her own supernatural event where she was able to enter the world of the novel and where she met Rochester.
As Thursday recovers in hospital, she learn that Hades was killed in a car accident after her fled the scene. She meets a time travelling future version of herself who warns her that Hades is still alive and advises her to take a job as a LiteraTec in her home town of Swindon. No one seems to believe her when she repeatedly claims that he is alive. Whilst there, we learn that her uncle and aunt, quite clearly intelligent people, have made a Prose Portal which allows people to enter the works of fiction. Needless to say, this becomes very important as the novel progresses.
Hades steals the original manuscript of Charles Dickens’s Martin Chuzzlewit. Along with this he kidnaps Thursday’s aunt, uncle and the Prose Portal in order to blackmail the literary world. Any changes made in the original manuscript meant that all other copies change in the world. To show how serious he is, Hades kills Mr Quaverley, a minor character from the original Dickens manuscript. He makes demands, which aren’t met, so he also steals the original manuscript to Jane Eyre. He kidnaps the protagonist, and asks for another ransom. As a result of this, the texts ends abruptly at the moment of Jane’s kidnapping, halfway through the book.
In a turn of events, Hades is traced in Wales, and her aunt and uncle are rescued along with the Prose Portal. Jane is returned to the novel, but she realises her aunt is stuck in a Wordsworth poem. “I think Wordsworth was as surprised to see me as I was him. It can’t be usual to go to your favorite memory only to find someone already there, admiring the view ahead of you.”
Hades goes into the original script of Jane Eyre with the Wordsworth paper in which Thursday’s aunt is imprisoned. Therefore, Thursday is forced to chase down Hades. She spends several weeks in the novel, so the book can rewrite itself. Time passes much quicker in the outside world compared to within the novel. However, Thursday is able to kill Hades and she recovers the paper that is currently imprisoning her aunt.
Unfortunatly, in the process, Thornfield Hall is burnt to the ground, Bertha falls to her death and Rochester is seriously injured. Thursday learns that the characters in the book must continually relive their lives, with full awareness of how the plot develops, and are unable to alter anything that happens. This means that Rochester must continually experience the devastating sense of loss when Jane runs away from him. Because Rochester helped Thursday, she wishes to do the same and resolves to change the ending of the book to a happy one. She changes the events to reunite Jane with Rochester (she alters the ending to match the actual end of the Jane Eyre).
As she returns to her own world, Thursday uses the Prose Portal to release her aunt. Goliath hasn’t been able to perfect Stonk into a working weapon, therefore with the deadline looming to deliver the weapons to the military, they resolve to use the Prose Portal to extract Stonk from the weapon manual. Thursday reluctantly agrees, but switches the book to Poe’s The Raven. Her uncle decides it is best to destroy the portal.
Next attends a debate with the supporters and opponents of the continuation of the Crimean War. She publically announces that the rifles do not work. This forces England to rethink its political position, which leads to peace negotiations, endings the war. (This does seem relatively simple!)
On a more personal note, Thursday goes up to the church where Park-Laine is about to marry another woman. However, Rochester’s lawyer interrupts the wedding, resulting in Thursday and Laine’s marriage instead. I found it quite sweet that Rochester helped her with her own love story, like Thursday helped him with his with Jane.
The novel ends with concerns regarding work for Thursday. The public reaction to the new ending of Jane Eyre is positive, including from the Bronte society. However there are other repercussions, mainly Goliath’s fury. “The Goliath Corporation was to altruism what Genghis Khan was to soft furnishings.”
The movement of time and universes is sometimes quite confusing, but I really did enjoy the fact that well known and loved characters are brought to life in a new way. It is a really interesting read. The adverts at the end of the book are also a really humorous touch. “Governments and fashions come and go but Jane Eyre is for all time.”
Big love x