One of my favorite things about Kristin Cashore’s writing is that all her books are so different from each other. In Jane, Unlimited she’s taken this to the next level: while she does repeat herself within the book, the repetition is so ingenious and original that it becomes an integral part of the story she’s telling.
Very briefly: the book is about Jane, a young woman whose guardian, her Aunt Magnolia, has recently died. Jane has dropped out of school and isn’t sure which direction she should take her life when she receives an unexpected invitation to visit Tu Reviens, the family estate of a prominent local family. Before Aunt Magnolia left on what turned out to be her final Antarctic photography trip, she made Jane promise that if she ever received an invitation to Tu Reviens, she must accept.
So when Jane receives the invitation from Kiran Thrash, she accepts. She packs up her belongings, including all her umbrellas and umbrella-making materials, and joins Kiran on the family boat to the island upon which Tu Reviens rests.
And that’s when things get weird.
Because Jane, Unlimited isn’t just one story, it’s five. And not only is it five stories, it’s five separate genres. The best way to describe it is that it’s like a choose your own adventure story, if each of the story paths rested upon a single choice. The five genres represented—within this overall fantastical framework—are mystery, spy thriller, horror, science fiction, and portal fantasy. They’re top notch examples of each.
In addition to the structural complexity of the novel, there’s also an extensive ensemble cast, each of whom has their own motivation and reasons for their actions—and one of the best things about the multi-genre approach is that each retelling of the core story allows a different member of the cast to take the fore and while Jane remains the point of view character, this structural and narrative shifting allows Cashore to show the reader different aspects of all the characters, which makes them all more fully rounded people.
Jane is faced with five different choices. Each choice she makes, leads to a different part of her story. While the choice happens at one point in the narratives each subsequent choice adds layers to the previous one, making for an increasingly complex story and one, that despite the strangeness of its structure, has a cohesive ending that was, for me, quite satisfying.
Here are some of the things I loved about the story:
- Jane’s umbrellas and how they were each perfect in their imperfection.
- The queer people and the POC seamlessly interwoven into the story and most importantly, Jane’s queerness, which is wholly unremarked upon by the text.
- Jane’s friendship with Ivy, who I wish there had been more of in the book.
- I will never be able to see Winnie-the-Pooh in quite the same way ever again.
- The housekeeper is named Mrs Vanders and she is very intense. There’s also a madwoman in the attic who actually isn’t mad at all.
- All the art in the story—not only do Aunt Magnolia’s photographs play an important role, there is also a Vermeer and a Brancusi that are also integral to each of the sections.
- Jasper the bassett hound is the best.
Jane, Unlimited is a wonderful book. I don’t understand why it hasn’t been talked about more in genre circles—it’s doing something new while still being accessible. Cashore’s writing has a clarity that’s refreshing to read and I really can’t recommend this book highly enough.