Who Reads Short Shorts? A TBR Challenge Review

Rochesterv3_Trickster is the third installment of My Mr. Rochester, a future-set retelling of Jane Eyre. L.K. Rigel is an author I’ve enjoyed before; I enthusiastically recommended her Apocalypto series of science fiction romance. Coincidentally my review of the first Apocalypto book, Space Junque, was my first TBR Challenge review of 2012.

So here’s the blurb on the My Mr. Rochester books:

Charlotte Brontë’s classic Gothic novel retold, set in a futuristic dystopia.

In the late 21st century, the American “red states” have formed New Judah, a more perfect union founded on biblical principles, rejection of technology, and reverence for women.

Orphaned Jane survives a cruel childhood and harsh boarding school education to become a governess at a remote and beautiful estate where mysterious and damaged Fairfax Rochester threatens her with a lawless love that shatters everything she’s struggled for.

I love this book’s differences from Jane Eyre, perhaps more than its similarities to Brontë’s classic. The world building is excellent, albeit chilling. As with the Apocalypto books, Rigel’s work reminds me of Sherri Tepper — and yes, that’s high praise. The repressive treatment of women in New Judah is sharper because it takes place in a larger world that has what Victorian England did not — technological advances like fast travel, instant news and communication, and excellent contraception. Denying those things, particularly keeping women slaves to their reproductive systems, makes the patriarchy feel even more evil, and Jane even more a victim of an evil system rather than just an unfortunate character.

It’s also really clever watching how people, places and events from Brontë’s novel are transfigured to fit in Rigel’s. I know a lot of readers don’t like re-tellings, but I enjoy them when they are done well. So far, this one is. The alternate setting brings out some of the feminist aspects of the story. When I eventually finish this series (I read the first one just over a year ago, so who knows how long that will be), I will need to re-read Jane Eyre, in order to appreciate some subtleties that I’m sure I’m missing because I haven’t read it in quite a few years.

One thing has not changed from the original book. I still think Rochester is an ass. It is hard for me, as a reader, to sympathize with him and the way he uses Jane. I think that has something to do with only seeing him, in both versions, through Jane’s point of view — which is hopelessly clouded until later in the story. She thinks he’s so wonderful that I can’t get a clear sense of him, although in this book, I found myself feeling a little more sympathy for the way he, too, was trapped by the rules of society. (I think that’s why my favorite version of Jane Eyre is the 1997 film with Ciaran Hinds as Rochester — he’s playing the character, not Jane’s view of the character, and so I feel his dilemma and poor choices more effectively.)

I enjoyed reading this book, and I will definitely finish the other two at some point. I see that Rigel also has a new series starting, Accomplished Ladies, about the women of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The first book is about Mary Bennet; I won’t be able to resist that!

First Post of a New Year

Welcome to 2015. I’m trying to figure out how I want to use this space going forward; I miss having blog posts (although so far I don’t miss the process of creating them), and I’m determined to find some way to blog about books without feeding that awful “cog in the machine” feeling. In the meantime, Jonathan McCalmont posted something that really sums up my feelings about reviewing/blogging/talking about books. He wrote:

I believe in the value of negative reviews because I want to be part of a literary culture that puts the emotional and intellectual needs of ordinary readers above those of professional elites. Unlike Silverman, I don’t yearn for a culture of intellectual combat but I do want to exist in a cultural space where people feel empowered by their community to talk about books in the way that feels most appropriate to them. I want people to be unafraid to talk about books in ways that lead to discussions about more important things and it is impossible for fans to have that type of freedom when they are expected to bear in mind the interests of authors who are trying to build their careers and manage their brands. I understand that the publishing industry has fucked over a generation of authors and tricked them into serving as their own publicists but that doesn’t mean that ordinary readers are morally required to enable those professional aspirations. I don’t want to be part of a literary culture that exists only to serve the interests of professionals and that is why I will always defend a fan’s right to produce brutal, scathing and viciously negative reviews.

(You can find his whole post, and the others in the “blogtable,” here.