John Eyre by Mimi Matthews — Book Review
From the desk of Syrie James
When I heard that John Eyre was a gender-swapping version of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre mashed up with elements from Bram Stoker’s Dracula—two of my favorite Gothic novels of all time—I was intrigued. I’m such a huge fan of these books that I’ve written novels inspired by both of them. I was eager to see if author Mimi Matthews could surprise or entrance me.
John Eyre, a schoolmaster in his late 20s, takes a post at remote Thornfield Hall as a tutor for two young boys—the wards of the widowed Mrs. Rochester. At this early point, the story adheres closely to Jane Eyre, albeit with gender-reversal: as John settles into his new role at the mansion, he feels a vague sense of unease, and hears chilling, inhuman laughter emanating from the supposedly unoccupied third floor. He meets Mrs. Rochester on the road, startling her horse and causing the infamous accident. Mr. Fairfax the butler runs the house, and Mr. Poole is blamed for strange things that go bump in the night.
There are plenty of curious new things going on, however, including a sinister silver mist that won’t go away, and the odd appearance and behavior of his pupils (they are mute and deathly pale). The minute Mrs. Rochester shows up, things change even more. Bertha is a true force of nature, strong and smart and unlike any woman John has ever met. The dark secrets she’s hiding are revealed to John and the reader one tiny piece at a time, and suspense builds as Bertha and John become friends and fight their attraction to each other.
The events at Thornfield Hall alternate with an earlier timeline relating Bertha’s travel adventures in Egypt and the Continent, where she falls under the spell of an enigmatic and charming man, Edward Rochester. Told through Bertha’s letters to a friend and journal entries, these chapters are a compelling, effective homage to the epistolary style of Dracula. After Bertha marries Mr. Rochester and accompanies him to his castle in Eastern Europe, the situation deteriorates and becomes increasingly spooky. She soon realizes that the man she has married may not be a man at all—and that her very life is in danger.
How does Bertha extricate herself from this deadly situation? Who are the mysterious boys that John Eyre has been hired to tutor? Why is Mrs. Rochester relieved when she learns that John uses laudanum to treat his migraines? When and how will John learn the truth about what’s going on at Thornfield Hall?
Matthews’s writing style is flawless throughout and captures the essence of 19th century Gothic prose. It was great fun to experience the gender-swapping elements in this re-telling of Brontë’s well-known tale, but author Mimi Matthews did so much more, giving new depth and interest to the “monster in the attic.” From the first page I was on the edge of my seat, caught up in the characters and the story, dying to see what new elements the author would dream up and how she would resolve everything.
One of the things I loved most was Matthews’s depiction of Bertha Rochester. Unlike Jonathan Harker in Stoker’s Dracula (who responded to his experiences at Castle Dracula by going stark raving mad), Bertha just gets mad, as in angry, and goes through hell to fight back. I was thrilled by Bertha’s cleverness and courage and impressed by the resolve, resilience, and compassion of our hero, John Eyre. The author wisely chose to focus only on the most salient story elements from Jane Eyre and Dracula that were necessary to the re-telling of her story, and she wraps things up in a very satisfactory fashion.
My only small complaint is that, even within the novel’s perfectly proper confines, I would have liked to feel a bit more passion and heat between John and Bertha, but this is a minor quibble. I was completely enthralled by this novel. It will be especially appreciated by readers familiar with the classics which inspired it, but will be enjoyed by the uninitiated as well; it might intrigue them to read the originals.
With John Eyre author Mimi Matthews delivers a thrilling, spooky ride filled with heart-stopping suspense—I couldn’t put it down! Highly recommended!
5 out of 5 stars.
- Title: John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow
- Author: Mimi Matthews
- Genre: historical fiction, Gothic romance, paranormal fiction
- Publisher: Perfectly Proper Press (July 20, 2021)
- Length: (364) pages
- Hardcover ISBN: 978-1736080207
- Trade Paperback ISBN: 978-1736080221
- eBook ASIN:B08NPLVHVN
Reader, please share what intrigues you about Mimi’s novel John Eyre by leaving a comment below. If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Regency and Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publishers Weekly, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.
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