Book Review: Bespelling Jane Austen

Featuring Stories by: Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, Janet Mullany
HQN, 2010
378 pages
trade paperback


I totally picked this one up off the library shelf as a "maybe," you know, the way one does when one is browsing and begins collecting a giant pile of stuff that might be interesting. It's the same thing that happens when you're at the grocery store and aren't entirely sure what you might be hungry for later, so you toss anything that might seem likely into the cart.

Okay, so first off, I'm not familiar with any of these authors. I do read romances from time to time--used to read Regency romances quite regularly before so many of the romance publishers nixed them. And I do like Jane Austen. And I like a little magic and/or magical realism every now and then, too. So this one seemed like an interesting mix.

The conceit of the collection is that the four authors have each taken a Jane Austen novel and rewritten it in some way while also inserting a sort of paranormal or Gothic/horror element into it. Think of that whole Pride and Prejudice and Zombies phenomenon that occurred a couple years back and you're on the right track, but this is on a smaller scale, the stories much reduced to fit the collection.

So taken one by one, Mary Balogh turned Austen's Persuasion into a story about soul mates and reincarnation. It's a nice idea but I didn't love the execution. As I've mentioned, I'm not familiar with Balogh's other works--according to the blurb she's written 70+ books, many of them set in Regency England. But this one just didn't ring right to me somehow. There seemed to be a lot of tell and less show. Or maybe the problem was she showed and then, just to be sure the reader understood, she then told as well, so it seemed like overkill.

Gleason took Northanger Abbey, which quite lends itself to the whole idea of Gothic horror, and had Catherine hunting vampires at Bath and then, naturally, at Northanger, which for the purposes of the story became a castle. This one was cute, and I liked it, but I felt it could have been fleshed out a bit more; the ending seemed rushed.

Krinard did a nice job of turning Mr Darcy--and numerous other characters--of Pride and Prejudice into a vampire. Though the story is set in modern day Manhattan, Darcy is able to keep all the lusture of his prim and exacting personality by dint of the fact that he is 200 or so years old and, as they say, old habits . . . While I didn't 100% believe the way these "modern" Bennet girls talked and behaved, the story as a whole was well done.

And finally, Mullany cast Emma into modern day Washington D.C., where the title character is a witch running an online dating service for paranormal creatures such as vampires, elves, werewolves . . . Now, I've never read Emma (though I know she is supposedly a would-be matchmaker), so I can't say whether the characters in Mullany's story bear any resemblance to the originals--their magical abilities notwithstanding. But honestly, there wasn't a single person (creature) that I could like in the whole thing. They were all of them obnoxious. (My husband assures me this is true of Austen's book as well.) At any rate, the tale seemed a bit cobbled and cliched.

All in all, I'm not sorry I took the time to read it. Out of sheer curiosity I might consider taking a look at any one of the authors' other books to see how they measure up.

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