Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Valour and Vanity, by Mary Roninette Kowal (2014)From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

I have thoroughly enjoyed the first three books of the Glamourist History series which has only gotten better as it goes on, but when I read the description of the fourth book I wasn’t positive that improving trend would continue, at least for me. Pirates? The Regency version of a heist film? Those may appeal to many but aren’t my preferred cup of tea.I love that the earlier books incorporate historic events into an alternate Regency world that shimmers with glamour–a magical art of illusion. Napoleon’s wars, the Luddite uprising, and the 1816 climate disruption are integral parts of their narratives, but the new book’s plot synopsis does not hint at a similar use of history. Still, I trust Mary Robinette Kowal’s storytelling skills so there was no way I would miss her latest. I just hoped I would love Valour and Vanity as dearly as the others.

A tip from Lord Byron sends Jane and her husband Vincent to the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre where an ancient but still vibrant lion glamour roars and struts among the rubble. That beautiful lion is forever fixed in place because glamoured images made with traditional methods cannot be moved, but Jane and Vincent hope to perfect a new way of creating glamour by weaving its threads into molten glass which could then be easily transported. To that end they are headed to the island of Murano, famous for its glass-making artistry. They have been on a mostly joyous Continental trip with the rest of Jane’s family, celebrating her sister Melody’s wedding, but Jane is glad she and Vincent will soon be alone because her mother can tend to be high strung. Sure enough Mrs. Ellsworth musters a Mrs. Bennet worthy panic as Jane and Vincent’s ship is about to depart. She’s heard a rumor pirates rove the Gulf of Venice! Pirates!

That, of course, is absurd, as Jane and Vincent know. No pirates patrol this part of the Mediterranean. Which makes it all the more shocking when rakishly dressed buccaneers board their boat, robbing passengers and crew. “It is absurd that my first thought is a desire to keep this from your mother” (25) Vincent says to Jane as he prepares to help the crew defend the ship. But Vincent is knocked out and Jane and Vincent lose all of their money, luggage, and jewelry–even Jane’s wedding ring–and are almost kidnapped for ransom.

They are saved by Signor Sanuto, a kindly Murano banker and a fellow passenger. He pays the pirates off and allows Jane and Vincent to stay in his beautiful palazzo. They were supposed be hosted by Lord Byron, an old school chum of Vincent’s, but he’s skipped town to avoid an irate ex-lover. Sanuto lends them clothing and secures them a line of credit until they can access their funds in England.

This frees Jane and Vincent to begin their mission, but they immediately run into obstacles. After Napoleon’s occupation Murano’s glassmakers are wary and refuse to work with the glamourists, sure their real goal is stealing trade secrets. Again it is Sanuto who steps in, using his clout to persuade one glassmaker to reconsider, but even with Sanuto’s help the terms are limited and expensive.

Still Jane and Vincent make progress toward their goal, and are about to celebrate their success when Sanuto disappears and everything falls apart. Their line of credit dries up, authorities kick them out of Sanuto’s palazzo, someone empties their English bank accounts, and they now owe money all over town. Lord Byron, who had briefly turned up, is again missing leaving Jane and Vincent penniless, homeless criminals, unable to contact family and not allowed to leave until they pay their creditors. Added to that, the one glass ball they had successfully inscribed with glamour is gone. Jane and Vincent are barely managing to eat, but Vincent concocts a reckless and dangerous plan to turn their fortunes around.

Highly suspenseful and almost too exciting, Valour and Vanity held me enthralled, and I loved seeing how Jane and Vincent cope with their difficulties. The only thing lessening my pleasure was foreknowledge of who betrayed them, which was revealed in the original marketing synopsis. I would rather have been surprised.

But, the book’s pleasures are many. Though partially in ruins post-Napoleon, the beauty of Murano’s island city shines through the pages and vivid scenes of its daily life satisfied my history lust. Most charming is the wonderful cast of characters who help with Vincent’s plan. These include a pious but determined group of nuns, a resourceful puppeteer, and the colorful Lord Byron himself, whose wild daring and loyalty to his friends knows no bounds.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Valour and Vanity: The Glamourist Histories, Book 4, by May Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2014)
Hardcover (416) pages
ISBN: 978-0765334169

Read Our Previous Reviews of The Galmourist Histories 

Cover image courtesy of Tor Books © 2014; text Jennifer Haggerty © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise – A Review

Pirates and Prejudice Kara Louise 2013 x 200From the desk of Kimberly Denny-Ryder:

When I first heard about a novel that turned my beloved Fitzwilliam Darcy into a pirate, I was apprehensive. HOW could anyone believably transform that noble gentleman into scurrilous brigand? He was so proper, so refined, and orderly. Picturing him as a swashbuckler…well, I just couldn’t imagine it. Enter author Kara Louise and her novel Pirates and Prejudice. I shouldn’t be surprised that Louise was able to seriously sell me on the idea, considering I loved her earlier novel Darcy’s Voyage (another version of P&P at sea.) Her characterization and unique storyline had me hooked on this new and intriguing way of looking at one of the most iconic romantic heroes ever created.

Feeling deeply spurned after Elizabeth Bennet rejects his offer of marriage, lonely and forlorn, Fitzwilliam Darcy eschews his friends and family, preferring instead to hide away at the London docks where he drowns his disappointment in drink. There, he is mistaken for an escaped pirate Captain Lockerly and imprisoned. Even though he claims “disguise of every sort is my abhorrence,” he aids the local authorities and agrees to impersonate the notorious pirate to help capture him. What was once something he would have never imagined for himself, the pirate life now calls him into action. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s Aunt and Uncle Gardiner cancel their vacation plans to tour The Lake District leaving Elizabeth open to sail to the Isle of Scilly with her father to see her ailing aunt. On their return voyage, however, they are set upon by pirates and rescued by a Captain Smith. Imagine her surprise when she discovers that this is no ordinary Captain, but the ex-pirate impersonator Mr. Darcy himself! How will Darcy explain how he came to be a sea Captain? Will Elizabeth fall in love with this new and improved version of the Mr. Darcy she once so coldly rejected?

Pirates and Prejudice is first and foremost a fun variation of P&P. Darcy’s attempts to shed his educated, genteel upbringing is at times hilarious. The scenes where he tried to make his speech sound coarse and unrefined brought tears to my eyes. Over the course of the novel, he evolves into an adventurous, suave pirate, the likes of Errol Flynn in Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk. Though Darcy’s path to inner transformation happens differently than Austen would have imagined it, yet it still happens. Pirating offers him the time he needs to think about Elizabeth’s rebuff and his former feelings, and it also offers readers the opportunity to take this journey with him.

For as much as I’ve said about the pirating elements of this novel, Pirates and Prejudice is also a wonderful romance filled with twists and turns. Due to Darcy needing to disguise his true identity, his reintroduction to Elizabeth is immediately slated for trouble. He knows that his false identity (when it is finally revealed) has the ability to tear them apart all over again. Darcy’s struggle with doing right for his country, while trying to do right by his heart is excellently written. Louise accurately depicts his struggle and inner war.

In the end, Pirates and Prejudice gives us a fabulously heroic Darcy, action packed sword fights, damsels in distress, and a heartwarming romance sure to please each and every reader. While the premise seems outlandish, I beg you to give it a shot. Louise is a writer with a genuine talent that will surely draw you in to this story.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Pirates and Prejudice: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Kara Louise
Heartworks Publications (2013)
Trade paperback (276) pages
ISBN: 978-0615815428

Cover image courtesy of Heartworks Publications © 2013; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2014, Austenprose.com

Disclosure of Material Connection: The reviewer purchased a copy of this book. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn – A Review

From the desk of Christina Boyd:   The Secret Betrothal by Jan Hahn (2014)

Marriage in Regency times was the rock that built Society’s foundation. Not only was it the most important step in a young woman’s life, the union could advance her family’s social standing and wealth. Throughout Jane Austen’s novels we are shown the maneuverings of families to obtain advantageous alliances for their children, so when we see the secret engagements in Emma and Sense and Sensibility, and their outcome, we know the risk and scandal that can ensue. With this in mind, I am both curious and uneasy by author Jan Hahn’s choice of The Secret Betrothal as a title of her new novel. Furthermore, in this reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, she has boldly chosen to explore what would happen if Elizabeth Bennet entered into one herself! Whatever would possess our favorite Austen heroine to take this risk—and what would Mr. Darcy do to save her from such a folly?

For reasons I shan’t give away here, Elizabeth must keep this betrothal a secret and when she was told she could tell no one, not even her beloved sister, Jane:

“…she felt a chill crawl up her back….Although he lacked fortune, it was due to no failing on his part, and he had the promise of an adequate future awaiting him. But the possibility of waiting two years provoked a sigh from deep within her. He had warned Elizabeth that they must avoid paying close attention to each other when in public so as not to raise talk among the gossips of Meryton. Being a sensible woman, Elizabeth knew that was necessary as talk of matches and mating was primary among Hertfordshire society. Still, it did not set well with her.”  (63)

A chance meeting at Rosings Park, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth re-new their acquaintance and he comes to find out soon after his unpropitious declaration of love that she is already engaged. Secretly engaged! But he cannot comprehend why such an intelligent and fine a creature as Elizabeth would allow herself to enter into such an agreement. (Me either. Why, Elizabeth? Why? But of course, that frustration is what we are designed to feel.) Through a comedy of errors, the two are thrown together once again to aid the inhabitants of both Hunsford Parsonage and Rosing Park who have all taken ill after partaking in Lady Catherine’s apothecary’s prescribed tonic, helping Elizabeth change her former prejudices against Darcy. Meanwhile, as the weeks pass and Elizabeth receives scant letters from her secret amour, but continues to hear troubling news regarding his behavior from her youngest sisters, Elizabeth further questions her predicament. Not long afterward, Darcy’s physician suggests Mrs. Charlotte Collins might best recover at the seaside, so off to Lady Catherine’s Brighton home they go. There at Waverly, the story really heats up with some very sweet, romantic scenes along the ocean’s edge.

“Why did I not recognize Mr. Darcy’s true character earlier, long before I pledged myself to the one man he could never forgive?” At that moment, Elizabeth realized she truly loved him. She loved Mr. Darcy, and it was too late.

She rose to her knees and leaned out the window, allowing the wind to softly drift through her nightgown, causing her hair to blow from her face. How she yearned to reach him, to tell him how greatly she regretted all that happened!

Unexpectedly, the figure on the beach ceased his pacing. Accented by the moon’s brightness, Elizabeth could see him turn to cast his gaze toward Waverly. She became aware that most likely he could see her outline, that the candle behind her must be illuminating her figure in the window. He did not move but stood absolutely still, staring at her. Neither of them moved until a sudden gust blew through the window and quenched the candle. Now there was darkness.

Elizabeth watched the figure walk out of the light, and although she kept her vigil at the window for some time, he did not return.” (215)

(I declare, I was most inelegantly chewing my nails at this point.)

In The Secret Betrothal, award winning author Jan Hahn explores the heights and depths of a secret engagement and takes us on a frustrating, breathless, sentient and oh, so satisfying ride. I love all Jan Hahn’s previous works and have been anticipating her latest offering for months. This was worth the wait! Originally published on-line as a shorter story called “The Engagement”, this published work has undergone a thorough concept edit, tightening the story and expanding where the on-line story lacked. As always, Hahn writes excellent romance, but I did not relish that Elizabeth and Darcy did not take the straightforward approach to solving their quandary. But then that would have been a totally different story, and a bit of angst in Austenesque fiction is most deliciously, tantalizing. The Secret Betrothal felt authentic enough to Austen & Regency times. I am a sucker for happily-ever-afters. Fans of Jan Hahn will surely inhale this book, and those new to her work should add this to their to-be-read list—sooner than later.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Secret Betrothal: A Pride and Prejudice Alternate Path, by Jan Hahn
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback (324)
ISBN: 978-1936009329

Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Christina Boyd © 2014, Austenprose.com

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells – A Review

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells (2012)Review by Aia A. Hussein

The epigraph to chapter 3 of Juliette Wells’ new book Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination is taken from Michael Chabon’s “The Amateur Family” in Manhood for Amateurs (2010) and is one of the most interesting, almost poetic, descriptions of amateurs that I have ever read (it is quite long but worth reproducing in its entirety):

Perhaps there is no perfect word for the kind of people I have raised my children to be: a word that encompasses obsessive scholarship, passionate curiosity, curatorial tenderness, and an irrepressible desire to join in the game, to inhabit in some manner – through writing, drawing, dressing up, or endless conversational trifling and Talmudic debate – the world for the endlessly inviting, endlessly inhabitable work of popular art.  The closest I have ever come for myself is amateur, in all the original best sense of the word: a lover; a devotee; a person drive by passion and obsession to do it – to explore the imaginary world – oneself.

Admittedly, the word amateur has negative connotations but not so in Wells’ book.

An amateur is simply someone who is passionate about books and pursues that passion as a hobby rather than a scholarly profession, she argues.  In the last couple of decades, Wells, an Associate Professor of English at Manhattanville College and features editor for the Penguin Classics enhanced e-book edition of Pride and Prejudice (2008), has noted the rise in Austen tributes – the countless fiction, nonfiction, biographies, films, merchandise, and so forth, inspired by Austen’s novels.  Wells offers through her new book what could arguably be thought of as a tribute to the tributes, a critical examination of Austen-mania that acknowledges the important role it has played in keeping Jane Austen culturally relevant.

Everybody’s Jane, released this month by Continuum, takes into account scholarly work on fan cultures and fictions to explore Austen appreciation and appropriation, particularly its appreciation and appropriation in the United States.  After introducing the book in chapter 1, Wells begins her study by looking back to the early twentieth-century to introduce Alberta H. Burke, an American collector and self-confessed Janeite who Wells argues can be thought of as a direct forerunner to modern fans.  Later chapters explore such topics as literary tourism, Austen images, and Austen hybrids where, in addition to exploring hybrids such as Austen-paranormal fiction, Wells also takes a look at the little-studied phenomenon of Austen fan fiction aimed at evangelical Christians.

One of her most fascinating chapters, titled Reading Like an Amateur, explores the sometimes sticky subject of amateur reading versus professional reading or, in other words, the enthusiast versus the scholar. Striking a conciliatory tone, Wells suggests that there is room for both and that, perhaps, the two reading practices that the amateur and scholar are thought to adopt are not so very different.  Quoting scholar Roger Sales, Everybody’s Jane suggests that:

…popular modern texts are relevant to the academic study of Austen since readers constructs an idea of the author, and therefore of her works and their historical period, from the materials that are readily available within a particular culture at a particular time.  It would be very arrogant indeed to assume that all those who teach and study Austen are necessarily exempt from, rather than implicated in, this cultural process. (10)

Wells examines such topics as why and how amateurs read Austen, the reading experience of the amateur, and the juxtaposition of amateur reading with professional reading in this very important chapter.

In the book’s last chapter, aptly titled Coming Together Through Austen, Wells shares her belief that a deep appreciation for Austen can bring together amateurs and scholars and that the Jane Austen Society of North America (JASNA), since its inception in 1979, has auspiciously offered a home to a broad spectrum of Austen lovers.  An examination of the organization and a call to arms to continue exploring the works and influence of Austen conclude the book.

Wells uses novels, scholarly materials, sites of importance to Austen studies and fans, images, and films to beautifully illustrate her points in a way that is accessible to the ordinary reader but also valuable to the more professional one.  Each chapter begins with a clear and concise overview which helps give structure and order to an extremely comprehensive account of Austen in the popular culture.  It’s impossible to know if Austen will continue to remain a point of fascination for modern writers and fans in the decades to come but, nevertheless, the explosion of Austen-related materials over the last two decades makes this a phenomenon worth documenting and, thankfully, scholars like Wells agree.  This is a fascinating study.  I highly recommend this book.

5 out of 5 Stars

Everybody’s Jane: Austen in the Popular Imagination, by Juliette Wells
Continuum International Publishing Group (2012)
Trade paperback (256) pages
ISBN: 978-1441145543
Kindle: ASIN: B0071GVQRC

Aia A. Hussein, a graduate of Bryn Mawr College and American University, pursued Literature degrees in order to have an official excuse to spend all her time reading.  She lives in the DC area.

© 2007 – 2012, Aia A. Hussein, Austenprose