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Customer Review

VINE VOICEon October 2, 2010
I'm a devoted Janeite, and while I'm not a purist, I'm quite selective when it comes to Austen sequels and variants. I recognize there are (relative) classics and clunkers in the ones set in Regency times and more modern settings, but I find myself consistently preferring the updated-to-contemporary-period retellings and revisions. I suspect it is because there's less of a direct comparison to the original Austen oeuvre--and no one alive benefits from that comparison in my fond eyes and heart.

In BESPELLING JANE AUSTEN, one gets two novellas of each era...with the twist of paranormal activity enthreaded in each tale. Mary Balogh, a Regency romance writer of great repute, returns PERSUASION's Anne Elliot to her time period, but renames her Jane (!) Everett. Captain Wentworth has also been renamed (Captain Mitford). Using reincarnation as her "supernatural" device, Jane and Captain Mitford have loved but lost one another again and again in past lives, but determine not to do so this time around. Jane is "Almost Persuaded" (the name of Balogh's novella), but...

Colleen Gleason (whose Gardella series has made me a devoted fan) upgrades NORTHANGER ABBEY to NORTHANGER CASTLE. I think revisioning one of the Thorpes into a vampire is perfect casting--I just wish she had chosen a different Thorpe. But then, both are innate bloodsuckers, so it works brilliantly. I won't say what profession Thaddeus Blanchard (ne Henry Tilney) has now taken up, but he is related to Victoria Gardella. Catherine Morland is now Caroline Merrill, and while they both have a penchant for reading Gothic novels and possess wild imaginations, Caroline is braver and more observant in many ways. She deserves her mate! While there are one or two allusions to the Gardella series, you should not have any problem following this story even if you've never read any of them.

The last two novellas (the modernized ones) are written in first person, as opposed to the third person that the first two are written in. This augments and furthers the sense of freshness and modernity. BLOOD AND PREJUDICE is quite faithful to the names of the original P&P characters and on the first page, we learn that Lizzy works at Longbourn Books. How perfect is that? The author, Susan Krinard, is faithful to Austen's innate values as well--that is, if Austen had written Darcy as a vampire. I find Krinard more faithful to Austen than vampiric traditions, and that's my preference as well.

I was surprised that my favorite of these four is EMMA, updated as LITTLE TO HEX HER, by Janet Mullany. She is not as faithful to EMMA as Krinard is to P&P, even though she, too, kept the names of most characters (Miss Bates is now Missy Bates, however). This Emma Woodhouse runs a dating service in Washington, DC (again, the perfect occupation!) for the magical--Naiads, Witches, Vamps and Werewolves, for example. George Knightley works in high finance and owns the building in which Emma is living; they dated in college but Emma broke up with him shortly after they made love for the first time. Not very Austenesque. However, whilst not as true to structure, Mullany truly gets the spirit of Jane Austen yet modernizes the situation in such a way that I could appreciate it as a stand-alone, without constantly thinking about the original. And oddly, I find that works best of all for me in this particular genre.

As I thought about this review, I have discovered one other thing about my preferences: I really prefer full-length novels to novellas. You can not possibly have the wonderful character development that takes place in any of Jane Austen's novels, even NORTHANGER ABBEY, in 100 pages or less.

One last note: often, in a book with four different authors, you feel there is a weak link. I did not feel that way with BESPELLING JANE AUSTEN. Perhaps the authors managed to bewitch me, too.
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