Title: The Jane Austen Project
By: Kathleen A. Flynn
Pub date: May 2, 2017
Review: HERE BE SPOILERS
In a world not dissimilar to our own, there is but one large difference: time travel exists. Not Doctor Who time travel where you can manipulate time and space, but a possibility that for most characters in this world can do once and very rarely more than once in their lifetime but they can do it nonetheless. Time travel here is not quite fleshed out or really given even fake physics view from it other than they are traveling via wormholes, but no matter, the premise of the story is delightful enough to keep reading
Trained at the Royal Institute for Special Topics in Physics, doctor Rachel Katzman and actor-turned-scholar Liam Finucane have a singular purpose: to steal the letters of Jane Austen to find out what happens to Jane’s incomplete works and to see if they can cure and save Jane from her mysterious ailment that kills her at the age of 42 in 1817. They are to do all of this without changing the course of history (too much).
We are dropped immediately into the story when Rachel and Liam land in Leatherhead, Surrey dressed in period garb and affecting mannerisms of 1815 England. Posing as brother and sister, Rachel and Liam must not only integrate themselves into Regency society but also become intimates of the Austen family. Educated in the whereabouts, personalities, and eventual deaths of the Austens as well as the time period itself, Rachel and Liam must skilfully navigate society as to a:keep up appearances of their assumed personalities, and b: do not disrupt anything in the timeline, specifically with the Austens, that could change the outcome of history.
There is much that I love about this book. First and foremost, Flynn’s characterization of Jane is brilliant and how I would have expected Jane to be —slightly sarcastic but without malice, fiercely protective of her family, and curious as hell about the world. Rachel’s relationship with Jane is a bit sticky in the beginning: Both are independent and fierce in their own right, but watching Jane and Rachel become the most intimate of sisters felt real and not contrived. I was especially buoyed by Flynn’s rendition of Jane as another novel I just finished with Jane as the main character drew Jane as slightly flighty and a bit too sweet, which clashed with everything we know from the meager number of letters on about Jane. Flynn drawing Jane from those personal accounts really set the tone of the story.
As Rachel and Liam become more involved with their subjects, some conflicts appear. While having a secret engagement with Henry Austen, Jane’s most beloved brother, Rachel finds herself in love with Liam which one can expect is most delicate as they are portraying themselves as brother and sister. Liam seems to return Rachel’s affections but their affair, obviously kept in secret, seems one-sided as Rachel comes off as a teenager in the first throes of her first boyfriend while Liam remains steadfast and stoic. Perhaps that was the intent? It should be noted there is definitely nothing chaste in their joining which didn’t put me off, I slightly adored it, but there is no next chaptering it in these love scenes. Fear not dear reader! The Rachel/Liam romance is very secondary in the book and it does not detain from the story.
Jane eventually finds out Rachel and Liam’s true purpose in their real reasons for becoming close to the Austen family and that they are also from the future. This wasn’t too unexpected, Jane would have to find out after all, but Jane’s near immediate acceptance of Rachel and Liam’s objective was a bit disappointing. Flynn captures Jane as headstrong and independent through 90% of the book and drops it during these scenes— Jane’s quick acceptance seems out of character.
When Rachel and Liam return to present day, they discover their true purpose was not to just capture Jane’s letters before they are destroyed but to prolong her life, which Rachel eventually does. Upon their return, not only have they changed world history—Jane lives, publishes over 20 novels, and lives a long full life, but Rachel and Liam’s personal history have also been changed. In some ways, drastically such as Rachel’s mother, who in her first time line is living when Rachel leaves for the past, but in her new current timeline, her mother had died when Rachel was young.
The ending, I thought, was a bit clunky. We are left hanging of the “will they or won’t they” in regards to Rachel and Liam and Flynn writes as if she’s not too sure either on what’s going to happen. I re-read the last chapter several times and I am still finding it a bit uneven.
Nevertheless, Flynn’s research is near immaculate and it really shows. She captures the period beautifully down to the wordplay, mannerisms, and period correct lifestyles. 90% of the characters are well thought out (oh, Cassandra! I would have loved to have seen more of you!) and vibrant. The story flows evenly despite the slight hiccups along the way and the clunky ending. While I would recommend this title to anyone looking for a fine read, I would most especially recommend it to those who are into Jane Austen paraliterature as it makes a fabulous addition to any collection.