Jane Austen’s birthday is December 16th, and in honor of the lady’s 235th, Sourcebooks—which has an entire imprint dedicated to Jane Austen pastiches and continuations—gave away about ten e-books for free. I was about to go on some airplanes for the holidays, so I loaded up my Kindle with some Darcylove (Mr. and Mrs.) and wended my way into the snowy tundra of Michigan.
Here are my thoughts, ranked from best to worst:
Funny, fast moving and with actively likeable characters. The writing is, while obviously not as brilliant as Austen’s, relatively true to the source material and pretty smart and entertaining. The characters quote themselves from the book a little too often, and weirdly, there are some moments of Chaucer geekery, which are obviously the author's hard-on, not Austen's. But I’ll admit they made me happy. If they’re not your thing, they are easily skippable and not too long. But the real reason I would recommend this book is because of a series of on-going moments surrounding a sex manual. Bingley, relatively early on, asks Darcy for “marital” advice, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, if you know what I mean. Darcy, in terror and embarrassment, procures him a copy of The Book (which appears to be a Kama Sutra variant), which keeps cropping back up as Lizzy and Jane discover their husbands’ respective copies. It was sweet, charming, and had a couple of actual giggle out loud moments. I really felt like the author knew these characters and loved them as much as I do. (Well, almost.) This one stayed by far the truest to Jane and Lizzy’s relationship, which is of insurmountable importance to me. It also shows, sympathetically and charmingly, the relationship between Darcy and Bingley in a totally believable way that just made me want to hug them.
This is apparently a series, and I’ll seriously consider reading the rest. Apparently Mary is scandalous in Europe and Darcy has a half-brother! What could be wrong with that?
I’d like to put in a quick word for a book that wasn’t in this birthday giveaway, but instead is published by Tor books. There is a whole series, though I think this is my favorite. It’s a fun little Darcys-in-town story, with a little Dorian Grey influence and some magic thrown in for good measure. The series gets more disappointing after this one as she appears to ignore the initial premise—and promise—of this book, that there would be magic in this world and Lizzy would eventually convert Darcy into a believer. The writing, however, doesn’t disappoint or decrease, so the rest of the series is pleasant, too. The characterizations are, again, pretty spot-on, and the plots are probably the best I’ve yet seen in this genre.
I read this years ago. It’s painfully soap opera-esque, with kidnappings and attempted rapes, melodramatic sequences and people thinking they aren’t worthy, and hiding things from each other all over the place. On the other hand, I stayed up all night to finish it. But I’ve never been able to make myself reread it. I don’t know what to tell you! Perhaps you should read it and report back to me on this one?
This book created severely mixed emotions within me, as there are two very distinct Mr. Darcys at work here. The first is an emo, fifteen-year-old girl writing her diary (I would know, I’ve read my diary from when I was fifteen), and really only needs sad song lyrics to be complete. But the second is a witty, interesting take on some of Austen’s dialogue that really elucidates and builds Mr. Darcy’s character in a believable, sympathetic, and comprehensible way. Turns out things Mr. Darcy shouldn’t do include writing about his emotions, but he should tell us his motivations for canon actions. It put an interesting spin on why he does things that I sometimes think are frankly mean and unattractive (like splitting up Jane and Bingley, or saying cruel things about Lizzy’s family.) Unfortunately the author over uses the word satirical constantly. “She was satirical.” “She looked satirical.” “Caroline was often satirical.” It’s a minor note, but it did bother my editor-brain.
• The Pemberley Chronicles by Rebecca Ann Collins (Pride & Prejudice companion)
Probably the best written of the bunch, but depressing and awful, this one seems to be an authorial soapbox for some political reformist screed in which everyone gets married faster than you can meet or care about them—or even remember their names. It’s a weird treatise on Georgian politics. I reached the end of the book and just felt. . . pointless for a while. The only “moving” scene in the book—a death—evoked nothing from me, except vague incredulity. Was it in there to show the pointlessness of life? Was this a Joss Whedon “anyone can die at any moment” thing? I did actually learn quite a bit about the time period and kind of want to read more about the reform movements of the era, but, um, I’m not sure that made it worth reading. Plus, there was some weird conceit about how it was written by Mrs. Collins’ daughter, only it’s not actually, because it’s all chronicled as if the narrator were a fly on the wall throughout most of the action, including intimate scenes for which the “writer” definitely wouldn’t have been there. Then, it turns out that actually it was all written by one of the Gardiners’ daughters’ in her diaries that she gave to Collins’ daughter. It all gets very confusing and the conceit seems—like the rest of the book—pointless. In addition, Lizzy is portrayed as the least interesting of the women—with perhaps the possible exception of Jane—which will always make me indignant. This one was a real slog to get through, and I had to take frequent pauses to run downstairs and inform my family of how boring and depressing it was. The scholarship, however, seems pretty sound and informative—from the very little I already knew of the time period.
• Mr. & Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Two Shall Become One by Sharon Lathan (Pride & Prejudice continuation)
Weirdest of the whole lot, not in the least because I’m pretty sure this author hasn’t read the book, nor even seen 1995's BBC mini-series, which could almost give you enough information to write a sequel. No, as far as I (and many reviewers on Amazon) can tell, this book is entirely fanfiction of the 2005 Keira Knightley movie. Which horrifies me on every possible level, dear reader, as I’m sure you can admit. (So much so, I just made a Bronte reference in an Austen post!) It’s obvious from the get-go, when you realize that the book harps on the wide gap in social stations between Darcy and Lizzy—which, if you go by the movie, are wide indeed. She was brought up, by all visual accounts, in a farmyard, with washing just hanging out for the world to see! But who can forget Lizzy’s stinging retort when Lady Catherine accuses her of just that in the source material: “He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal.” Instead of a respectful continuation of a story and characters we love already, what we have here is one continuous, terribly-written, sex scene. The author’s note mentions that it was first posted on fanfiction.net, which could ring warning bells, but many authors I know and love got their start in fanfiction. The difference here is that this particular example is what’s called a PWP—porn without plot—and thousands of pages of it, not to mention the atrocious quality of the prose. They think about clothes and sex in every room of the very large, room-filled estate of Pemberley, but nothing else. AND, it employs one of the most obnoxious and creepy tropes of bad fanfiction: virgin!Darcy. How you could turn a strong, proud man into such a simpering simpleton who neglects his work, estate, and responsibilities to have all this brilliant sex—despite having no previous sexual experience—boggles my mind. This is a series. There is, however, no way I can force myself to read more. Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted? Apparently and heart-rendingly so.
So, here I’m going to veer off the Sourcebooks-beaten path again for a moment to put in a note for my favorite Jane Austen-y novel of late. It’s not actually a P&P continuation, which effectively disqualifies it from being a contender here, which is good for the other books because it would win by a mile. Michael Thomas Ford’s Jane Bites Back stars Jane Austen, Byron—and in a surprise move of great hilarity—Charlotte Bronte as vampires. It’s sweet and smart and funny and brilliantly written. In this novel, Jane Austen owns a bookstore and has horrified reactions to all the Austenalia/Pride And Prejudice continuations she sees and reads. Now, whenever I read one of these, I spend a moment wondering how Jane-the-vampire would react to it. Then I chuckle at the look of horror on her face. But I have arranged this list in the order that I think would best please her. What continuations do you think Jane Austen the vampire would chortle over? And which ones do you think would make her want to tear the book apart with her preternatural strength?