Bespelling Jane Austen – Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, Janet Mullany
HQN Books, Harlequin, 2010
Review copy from Netgalley
Buy: Amazon | Bookdepository *
Months ago I promised to leave paranormal Jane Austen books alone, after a few disappointing experiences. Because I really enjoyed Jane Bites Back, I thought I might leave the genre behind on a high note. One thing you should know about me: When tempted, I find it hard to keep book-related promises. And so, when I came across this book in the netgalley catalogue, I could not resist. And the (somewhat surprising) outcome of breaking my promise? I do not regret it at all! Bespelling Jane Austen was very entertaining. I don’t think it is better than Jane Bites Back, but it is a worthwhile read nonetheless.
Bespelling Jane Austen is a collection of four stories, each a retelling of a novel by Jane Austen: Persuasion, Northanger Abbey, Pride and Prejudice and Emma. The authors each have a different take on this “paranormal twist”, even if vampires appear in three of the four stories. What I enjoyed about these stories is that they feel very complete. I felt as if I had finished a small novella instead of “just a story” after reading each of these. And even if these stories are retellings of the familiar works of Austen, I did not feel cheated as I have felt when I read “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” or worse, “Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters”.
The first story, Almost Persuaded by Mary Balogh, is the story of Anne Elliot and Captain Wentworth recast as the story of Robert and Jane, who have to overcome the obstacles of love in many lifetimes, as this story takes on reincarnation. I have to admit that this story was not my favourite of the collection. Some of it felt too “easy” and all the details of former lives that were suddenly remembered at convenient instances made me a little sceptical, or, a little bored. But I have to be honest that that is a complaint I feel more directly now that I am writing my thoughts down on the story, while I did not notice it as much when I read it. What I liked best about this story was that it sparked my interest in how Balogh imagined reincarnation to work. but that is too much to go into here.
Northanger Castle by Colleen Gleason is, as I’m sure you guessed, the retelling of Northanger Abbey. In this story the heroine, Caroline, is obsessed by gothic novels, much as Catherine Morland, except in this story, vampires do really exist. This was the story I liked least of the collection. It felt too haphazard. I think it might be because what I love about Northanger Abbey, the social commentary and wit of Austen, is lost in this adaptation.
In Blood and Prejudice Susan Krinard takes on Pride and Prejudice. The story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy is now set in contemporary New York. The company of Elizabeth’s father is about to be bought by Mr. Bingley on the advise of Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth feels strangely attracted to Mr. Darcy, but senses that he might be dangerous.. I actually really enjoyed this story. It keeps quite close to the plot of Pride and Prejudice, but I never felt bored with it. Actually, it was quite exiting to “reread” the story in this manner. And I liked how many of the important figured in Pride and Prejudice were not as easily cast aside as they often are in modern takes on Pride and Prejudice. Of course, Mary is only mentioned once, and Charlotte isn’t mentioned at all, bur Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh were prominent and very well cast in this setting.
Little to Hex Her by Janet Mullany (a retelling of Emma) might be my favourite of this collection. In this story, set in contemporary Washington, witch Emma leads a dating agency in a world filled with paranormal creatures. I admit I was a little shocked that I liked this one best, because it is the story that has the most explicit mentions of sex in it. But, I thought it fitted the story, somehow. The story is also a little silly. Nevertheless, it is a very enjoyable read, not too long, like some of the other stories in this collection seemed to be, and while reading this I giggled a lot.
Recommended for fans of Jane Austen who are willing to try a paranormal setting. It might even work really well for people who do not like Austen particularly much, but do enjoy paranormal romance.
* This is an affiliate link. If you buy a product through this link, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.