Review: Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany
Oh boy, was I wrong.
Now, I know what some of you are thinking: "A good book about Jane Austen and vampires? Oh hell, no!", and roll their eyes. Others are thinking "A good book about vampires? Oh hell, no!" and go back to watching "Dawson's Creek". And still others are thinking: "A good book about Jane Austen?!?!" and then running away in droves. But it's true. It exists!
I confess I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. Sure, it looks cheesy...and okay maybe it's a little cheesy. But it is so well-written and so well-researched (don't laugh at me, I'm talking about the actual historical stuff, not the vampire stuff. Jerks.) that one can almost imagine all of it to be true. And despite its rather fantastical premise (spoiler alert: Jane Austen becomes a vampire), Mullany has done a superb job of integrating both the facts of Austen's life as well as fictional additives of her own which support the creation of various Austen characters; it is easy to contrive the origins of any and all of her novels from the activities of this book.
And to top it all off, we got a young Jane Austen to boot. Too many historical fiction/time traveling novels introduce Jane Austen as the most minor of characters: quiet, subdued, well into her thirties, avoiding attention, and wearing her amber cross - it seems to be the going caricature of Jane Austen for most writers. Thankfully, Mullany utilizes the early years, a time before Jane was published, a halfway point in her life (seeing as she died so young), and there are no amber crosses. If there'd been any mention of an amber cross, I might have thrown the book across the room, as I've been known to do.
As it were, I actually found it very difficult to put the book down. Mullany has a strange, delicious talent for making the plot work and do her bidding. It may be difficult to suspend one's disbelief for too long, but the allusion to historical markers (i.e. Jane Austen's hatred for Bath) make it easier. And since she wasn't working within the parameters of one of Austen's novels, there was no poorly-written expansion of well-established characters, and little room for eye-rolling.
All-in-all, what we have here is not a flimsy stab at the...um...colorful world of works based on or in Austen novels, but a solid piece of actually not-half-bad historical mash-up fiction, written for the reader who knows enough about Jane Austen herself to really appreciate its nuances.