Book Review: The Jane Austen Project

Jane Austen Reviews

Title: The Jane Austen Project
By: Kathleen A. Flynn
Pub date: May 2, 2017
ISBN: 978-0062651259

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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).

Simple enough.

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.

 

 

 

Review: Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James

Jane Austen's First LoveTitle Jane Austen’s First Love
Author Syrie James
Reviews Goodreads / LibraryThing
Rating: 3/5

First, an explanation
Dear reader — it is so weird to have posted nothing these last few days when I’ve been posting daily since the first week of January! But I have good excuses — Mr. Lisa moved the site from one provider to another and just in time too. The old provider’s web server was awful — site timed out, WordPress would constantly break, I lost posts because of the aforementioned and there was no way for me to fix it other than keep opening up tickets which the provider was ignoring. Mr. Lisa works as a systems admin by day so he took on the job of the moving and maintaining the site to a different provider. (Mr. Lisa also maintains the back end for my regular blog, Exit, Pursued by a Bear, and my profesh site, lisarabey.com. Do come visit!)

I’ve been remiss in keeping up with my own book club, Austen Weekly!  This week should cover chapters 13 – 15 of Mansfield Park and um, I’ve been a bit lax on the reading.  However, I’ve loaded myself up with Jane Austenesque library books and I’ve been in touch with a few authors about getting their books to review here so!, I will be doing some kind of book review every Monday.  Phew.

Jane Austen paraliterature and how I review
Paraliterature, to me, is anything that expands, deviates, complements, enhances, or is somehow related to an author or a theme. If you’re a Janeite, you already know there is hundreds if not thousands of such books from fan fiction to indie publishing to big name presses. I created an Austenesque Amazon wish list which is bordering on 500 items (and I know there is more) most of them books. I haven’t even dived into indie publishing. My lofty goal is to, ha ha ha, read them all but l let us say I will try to read many.

So back to the paraliterature and reviews – what I look for is a good story, well constructed plot, good pacing, solid research, if about a specific period, and good writing. I’m particular, I know, but after working in a bookstore for many years, you learn to find the best needles inside of the haystacks for recommendations. That’s what I want to do – I want to give an honest and unbiased review on what I’m reading to people with similar interests. If you have Elizabeth Bennet in space and Darcy is an alien – if you can make me believe all of the above requirements, I’d totally give you a great review. So the subject matter doesn’t matter so as long you hit on my requirements, then you’re golden.

Finally, it’s totally okay for you to disagree with my reviews. We all have different tastes and requirements from a story. If we all liked the same thing, life would be pretty boring.

Finally! the Review!
Syrie James has made a living by writing and complementing works of Austen and the Brontë’s, which is great for her and great for us. I’ve recently started reading James, beginning with The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austenand have really enjoyed the book and her work. The story was fresh, the romance, not really needed, was subtle. The pacing is good. There was constant moving forward of the plot. The writing was a bit sloppy at times but overall it was well written. While the primary time period was contemporary, James seemed to have a grasp of the machinations of the Regency period, which pleased me. (Nothing like sloppy research to ruin a good book, no matter how well written.) So when Jane Austen’s First Love became available at the library, I checked it out with working knowledge it would follow the same formula described above and be a delightful read.

Jane Austen’s First Love is not that book.

Let’s start with the characters — first, we must admit, we know nothing of how Jane Austen was as what is known is based on gossip, James Edward Austen-Leigh’s sketchy biography, and the few letters not burned to a crisp by Cassandra. With this, James had carte blanc in fleshing out Jane’s personality. She failed. James portrayed Austen as this 15 year old chatterbox, worried about fitting in with her peers and stressing about boys – essentially James distilled Lydia Bennet as Austen’s personality. There were some bright moments — she made Austen fearless which seems reasonable given what we can glean from Austen’s books, if we assume Austen injected herself into some of her heroines. There was, very scant times, when James’ Austen rejected what society had planned for her. But overall it was Austen’s pining for Edward Taylor that threw the story off for me.

Secondly, the Jane / Edward romance? No chemistry!

For this book , I read far more than my usual 50 page allotment to see if a book is worthwhile to continue and this one I got to page 165! But as I read, I realised I was reading it not because I so much enjoyed it BUT because it fulfilled Jane Austen paraliterature criteria. The book isn’t so bad as much as it has a tendency to be flat and the plot isn’t moving forward and there seems to be little action with the characters themselves. Jane Austen’s First Love reminds me a lot of the Lord of the Rings trilogy where in LotR, there are hundreds of pages of “we’re walking and we’re walking,” without really any action happening which begins to get tedious and nervewrecking. DO SOMETHING, I screamed at the book (internally) at least. Jane Austen’s First Love strikes me as a book people are either really going to love, Jane Austen has a romance!, or something people are going to be put off by. I am giving this 3/5 stars because the book did fulfil some of my criteria but overall I found it flat and wanting.

I will end this with saying I’m not dissuaded by reading more Syrie James – The Lost Manuscripts of Jane Austen was really good and one meh book does not mean to reject an autor completely.