Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn

So I read this for my Victorians class, basically because I want to write a paper on it for my final project – that research proposal is due in on Thursday and I’ve given it shockingly little thought in comparison to my usual intensive research schedules with these term paper things – anyway, I’m reading it for my final project, and I didn’t expect it to be any good.  I judge books by their cover, and this cover was rubbish.

I also judge them on really cheap jokes.  The fact that she talks into her little voice recorder, the brand of which is Reeder, makes me throw up a little in my mouth.  Reeder, I married him.  Oop.  There went the acid reflux.  The thing is, Ms. Shinn didn’t maintain this conceit straight through the book, you know?  The book wasn’t a transcript of everything that was recorded by the Reeder.  Most of it was in past tense, and it often talked about her little Reeder voice recorder, so it didn’t work out well, and caused me some dismay.  And also, hi, I’m Jenny, and I don’t like little cutesy jokes about Jane Eyre.

Here’s another thing that caused me some dismay.  Do you know what was wrong with Berthe Rochester (Beatrice Ravenbeck in this version), do you know?  Because I’ll tell you!  She was a malfunctioning cyborg!  She was!  I swear!  I didn’t make that up!  I couldn’t even have made that up if I wanted to which God knows I don’t, because I didn’t know that a cyborg was a part-human-part-robot creature.  Which is what Berthe is here.  A malfunctioning cyborg.  She’s just human enough that poor put-upon Mr. Rochester (Ravenbeck) can’t get rid of her.

I found this whole book trying.  It’s like Ms. Shinn made a big long list of every single scene in Jane Eyre, and then wrote down little notes next to each scene about how she could make them more science-fictiony.  The end result is less than inspiring.  Everyone seems like a cardboard imitation of their original characters in Jane Eyre, and the stuff that’s added in is vastly uninteresting.  I wasn’t, of course, expecting any adaptation to be able to improve on Jane Eyre, which is a book that gives joy to my life; but if Jane Eyre were Oxford, Jenna Starborn would be, like, the Derek Zoolander Center for Kids Who Can’t Read Good.

And I’m not just saying that because reading Jenna Starborn caused me to miss out on playing with my nice cousins that I haven’t seen since they were seven and four.  It’s my true opinion.  I would still feel that way if I had been reading Jenna Starborn as an alternative to parking ten eighteen-wheelers on Carlotta Street, or, I don’t know, giving enemas to everyone at the campus health center.  I would.

8 thoughts on “Jenna Starborn, Sharon Shinn

  1. “A malfunctioning cyborg”? That is the BEST thing I’ve read all day by which I mean the most horrible yet hilarious. So why didn’t Rochester just send her out to get fixed with all the money he got from the marriage?

  2. Well, of course she couldn’t be fixed. Because — this is Science — the human part of her brain was rejecting the cyborg part of her brain, and the robot implants in her brain were damaging it. It’s the future, silly, not a utopia!

  3. That made no sense to me. Therefore, I now am tempted to read this book. I’m actually intrigued by the fact that she went that route. If one went for a “postcolonial” reading of Jane Eyre one thing criticised is Bronte’s dehumanisation of Bertha which fell in line with the colonial idea that creole blood was tainted (with African blood, of course). So it’s funny that Shinn took it that extra mile and just made her half robot. If I were a political literary professor I could do a lot with that.

    Or want to and then I’d see “Reeder” and collapse into giggles . Is Jane Eyre the only classic she tried to destroy? I’d love for someone else to read and then tell me what she did with, say, Little Women.

  4. Well, that’s actually what I’m thinking of writing my paper about. I’m looking forward to it, sort of, although historically I do better writing papers about things I’m not crazy about, and I love Jane Eyre so, so much. I once tried to write a paper about one of my favorite books, The Charioteer, and it was pretty bad.

    I don’t think she’s done any other sci-fi adaptations of great novels, but I haven’t looked into it extensively. I’ve seen some good reviews of her other books on book blogs, so I might try another one sometime. When I’ve recovered. Maybe.

  5. Question:

    Have you read anything else by Sharon Shinn?

    “Jenna Starborn” is quite atypical of her work…

    You’d be well advised to try her Crawford award winning fantasy novel “The Shape Changer’s Wife” (if you want a well written gothic romance, with a bit of fantasy, that shows a Bronte influence).

    Her whimsical children’s fairytale “The Safe Keeper’s Secret”, the traditional swords n’ sorcery saga “Mystic & Rider” and the cult sci fi book “Archangel” also show her at her best… as a groundbreaking and inventive sci-fi/fantasy writer.

    “Jenna Starborn” is a blip on her record, and Shinn herself has said she would’ve done it differently had she had the chance to do it all over again… basically she considers it a kind of fan fiction….. which is also how I look at it….

    I think that “Jenna Starborn” is goofy, but I kinda liked it despite myself…. because I’m a “Jane Eyre” fan, a Shinn fan and a sci fi geek as well… I guess I could relate to the emotions that must’ve motivated Shinn to do this.

    Also, I don’t think the book was designed to be taken as seriously as you think. A lot of the bits that you said come across as parodic, I think they are designed that way…

    …for instance, Bronte’s novel is quite inconsistent when it comes to the tense of the narrative voice as well…

  6. Well, perhaps I will try another one. I actually have heard good things about The Shape-Changer’s Wife.

    My gripe with the tense isn’t that it’s inconsistent – it’s that it’s inconsistent with the conceit of her talking into a recorder. Jane Eyre is telling a story from the past, and she slips into present tense mainly in times of high emotion, and that’s fine. But Sharon Shinn uses this recorder idea, and then she doesn’t stick with it. So that’s what bugged me.

  7. Fair enough…

    I guess one other thing is that I came into the book with low expectations.

    I bought it second-hand for a couple of bucks, because I was bored and I had heard some bad things about it already… for this reason I guess I was kinda surprised at what things in the book did work.

    But this book is most definitely not meant to be taken seriously. It was written as a bit of a lark, and that is the spirit it should be read in (and the spirit it should’ve been marketed as, I agree with you that the cover and blurb are VERY misleading as to the actual content of the book).

    I pity you, having to write an essay on it, as much as I find “Jenna Starborn” amusing in it’s jocular and fannish way, the book simply isn’t worth it. It’s too much a piece of lightweight frothy escapism to be worth that much analysis.
    (unless perhaps you were writing an essay on different types of fan fiction, I dunno)

    It’s funny….

    ….one of the things that made me give some of Shinn’s other stuff a try was that I sent a letter to her through her website saying BOTH positive and negative things about this book.

    She wrote back, agreeing with much of my criticism, as well as saying how she would’ve done it differently in retrospect.

    She also noted that it’s the most polarising “love it or hate it” piece she’s ever done and that every year she gets one gushing piece of mail about it and one really venomous hate mail.

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