Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bespelling Jane Austen

Bespelling Jane AustenBespelling Jane Austen by Mary Balogh

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like these stories, but they just didn't do it for me. They were OK--maybe even 2 1/2 stars. I felt like they could have been better written than they were, though. They felt rushed and not sufficiently developed, especially when it came to the believability of the romances.

The first novella in the book, "Almost Persuaded" by Mary Balogh, was very loosely based on Austen's Persuasion. Too loosely, which really was a large part of the problem. Jane Everett and Captain Mitford are soulmates who fall in love and then screw it up lifetime after lifetime. In this lifetime, however, each gets to keep a piece of memory from their past lives, although Jane has been raised to believe her memories are fantasies or dreams and has a hard time believing in reincarnation. Captain Mitford has no trouble talking her into making out with him within hours of their first meeting, swimming in just her shift, and having sex with him in the sunshine, despite her breeding as a proper young English lady, yet she can't overcome that same training when it comes to her memories, which she knows happen to coincide remarkably with local history? Seriously? Had Balogh stuck closer to the original story and characterizations, just folding in the reincarnation subplot, I think the novella would have been much more believable.

In Northanger Castle, Colleen Gleason tells of young Caroline Merrill, who has read far too many gothic novels and is convinced that vampires and poisoners are around every corner. Which, as it turns out, is not too far off, although she gets most of the details wrong. Gleason sticks a lot closer to the spirit of her inspiration, Northanger Abbey, and as a result, I think this is the second most successful of the novellas, right up until the fairly ridiculous ending.

Blood and Prejudice, by Susan Krinard, had great potential: modern-day setting wherein Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham are 200-yr-old vampires & Elizabeth is a bookstore owner whose family's company is being taken over by Bingley's family's pharmaceutical company. Krinard stays relatively close to the spirit of the original story. But again, it all falls apart in the willing-suspension-of-disbelief department by the time they get to the rushed ending. There are only *legends* among the locals about "nightwalkers"? Really? No one noticed that the exact same people have owned/lived in Pemberley for 200 years?? And Darcy has a Twilight-esque vampire battle with Lady Catherine to save Elizabeth? *sighhh*

Finally, Janet Mullany's "Little to Hex Her" rounds out the book. It's very loosely based on Austen's Emma. Also a modernized version, this one features Emma Woodhouse as the temporary manager of a supernatural dating service owned by her sister Isabella. Emma lives in Isabella's D.C. apartment in a building owned by Emma's ex-boyfriend, Knightley. Elton is an elf bent on revenge because Emma's assistant, Harriet, turned him into a frog (temporarily!) when she realized, while they were on a date, that he was interested in Emma instead. Frankly, this is probably the best of the novellas because it digresses so far from its inspiration. The romance is still slightly forced, but at least the story is fun.

For readers' advisors: story doorway, primarily. Some sexual content, especially in the last novella.

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