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Romance review: Bespelling Jane Austen, part II

Continuing on from yesterday:

Blood and Prejudice by Susan Krinard

Sub-genre: Contemporary
Setting & time: USA, east coast, and England; modern times
Level of sensuality: Kissing.

There is no need to mention which Austen novel this story is based on, as the title speaks for itself. I also think it’s pretty clear that vampires are involved. Like in Northanger Castle, the plot is patterned after the plot of the original. The characters, those of them that are used (Charlotte Lucas, for one, is missing) are the same people as in Pride and Prejudice, with the same names and certain modifications appropriate to the modern setting. For one thing, Elizabeth is more active in trying to discover the truth about Darcy than she is in P&P, which is believable because, spirited and forward as she might have seemed to a contemporary of Austen’s in the original, she would seem rather docile and reserved showing the same behaviors in a modern setting, so that is all for the good. Darcy, if anything, is even more forbidding and brooding than in P&P and has a somewhat Byronic feel to him at times, but he is also updated, as is necessary for him in order to protect Elizabeth (who is not called ‘Lizzie’) from the vampirous main villain, who is not who you would expect.

The plot follows P&P pretty closely, with a few interesting twists, some of which are unexpected. It is a longer story than the previous two in the book and the relationships between the two pairs of lovers are given proper narrative time to develop.

The transposition of Regency England settings to modern-day USA and England is interesting. Rosings, for example, is a vampire nightclub, Bingley owns a pharmaceutical company and the two friends meet the Bennett sisters when a takeover of the Bennett family business is being discussed, but other things are just the same: Mr. Collins is as unctuous as he is in P&P, Caroline the same bitch, Mrs. Bennett as silly and Lydia as man-crazy, forward and empty-headed as ever, but it is all done in a believably modern way.

Having the action part of the plot – and no, it’s not the one you would think – take place on stage rather than off as it does in the original is interesting and adds colour to the narrative. The romance is also more satisfying and more passionate than in the first two stories. With everything coming together: characters, plot and a satisfying romance, I am giving this one 3+ stars.


Little to Hex Her by Janet Mullany

Sub-genre: Contemporary
Setting & time: Washington D.C., USA; modern times
Level of sensuality: Kissing and two sex scenes, one off stage, one on.

Those who know their Austen will know which novel this story draws on. If the misquotation in the title looks unfamiliar, think back to the opening passage of Emma.

Like Krinard, Mullany uses the actual names from the original, and the people are more or less recognisable as modern version of the original characters, but with important differences. For one thing, some of them are werewolves. Or vampires. Or elves. This is of course an opportunity for a magical twist to the story, and boy, does it get magical, both in funny and not so funny ways. I am certain some readers of Austen’s tale have wanted to do to Elton what Harriet actually does do to him...

As for the lead characters, Emma and Knightley, they are a witch and wizard. They are the same age in this story and have already had a relationship in the past which didn’t work out, so at least Emma is both more experienced and mature than she is in the original. But while she may be more mature, she is no more sensible or less meddling than in the original, and while Knightley is the same caring but somewhat overbearing know-it-all, he at least shows Emma that he is interested in her. The biggest difference in the characters is that Emma gets to be active here. She is the one who saves the day and makes her own destiny in the end.

Mullany has cleverly used only certain elements of Austen’s story in her own, such as the matchmaking – taken to new levels as Emma actually runs a matchmaking agency – her Elton-Harriet-Martin meddling and the Frank Churchill-Jane Fairfax story, but all of it is done with interesting twists and in fact this story deviates more from the original than the previous two stories in the volume, which is not a bad thing. After all, one can only take so much past-to-present transposition of what is more or less the same story.

The romance comes a bit fast, but not implausible, because after all, they were lovers once and know each other already. It was also interesting to see a certain principal rule of romance writing get broken with impunity.

This is altogether quite an enjoyable and funny romantic story, and it gets 3+stars.
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Conclusion:
Unlike some anthologies I have read no one story holds up the whole thing here, although one only needs to look at the cover to see that Mary Balogh was the one chosen to catch the attention of potential readers, whereas it was Susan Krinard who came up with the idea and recruited the others. Making Balogh, who is arguably the best known of the authors in the book, the headliner, may not have been a good idea, as she isn’t known for writing in the paranormal genre, and her contribution, while the least derivative, in fact turned out to be the weakest of the four tales.

Be that as it may, this is overall a pretty good collection of short stories/novellas with themes borrowed from Jane Austen, and has helped me add three new authors to my list of authors whose books I think worth checking out (Balogh was already one of my favourite romance authors).

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