Review copy provided by Tor.
The first book in this series, Ironskin, was a fairly close Jane Eyre recasting. If Copperhead is an equally close retelling of anything, I’ve missed it. It’s temporally a fairly close sequel but in structural terms not at all close–the main character changes from Jane to her younger sister Helen, and I think it could be read on its own fairly easily.
The main problem I had with Copperhead is that it’s in a clearly alternate universe, but I wasn’t clear how alternate–so how much it was supposed to refer to the Civil War Copperheads was not clear to me for most of the beginning of the book. And frankly they strike me as a pretty important historical element, so the fact that ultimately they don’t have much in common with the Copperhead movement in this book was not in general a plus.
However, I really liked the shift to seeing from Helen’s point of view–rather similar to the most recent Mary Robinette Kowal book, Without a Summer, which, while it did not shift viewpoint character, did give a far more nuanced and interesting picture of the beautiful and flighty younger sister character. Helen found ways to make a difference–even in the resolution of the book–that were true to her personality and skill set, rather than having to become a more standard-issue fantasy heroine in order to make her mark. The fact that she, for example, paid closer attention to the lives of the servants than many heroines seemed of a piece with both her past and her personality. And the gigantic funnely fey-related machine…was both fascinating in its inception and in its climax. And that’s all I can really say there without spoilers. But the endings all did feel earned, I can say that much, whether they fit the standard mold or less so.