It is 1797, and twenty-one-year-old Jane Austen’s first attempt at publication, First Impressions, has been “Declined by Return of Post”. Disheartened, but not dejected, she attends the Basingstoke Assembly with her sister Cassandra. One would think that “to be fond of dancing was a certain step towards falling in love,” not to be turned into one of the Damned! What started as an innocent flirtation with one of the bon ton (but dangerous) vampires, changes Jane’s life forever. Carelessly turned then abandoned, she is now one of the Undead. Struggling to hide her en sanglant urges Jane shares her affliction with her father Rev. Austen who is determined to save his daughter’s immortal soul from damnation. He decides to leave immediately with his family for Bath so Jane may partake the waters, the only known cure for her affliction.
Weak from hunger, Jane visits the Pump Room for the first time meeting Mr. Luke Venning, another of her kind. He quickly convinces her that she needs to feast on him to restore her strength before taking the cure. Jane is revived, but now her vampire desires are heightened and she craves even more blood. She is still determined to stay with her family and take the cure, until Napoleon’s troops invade England and Bath quickly loses the battle surrendering to the French forces. Realizing that her superior vampire skills could be used to oust the French from England, Jane rejects her salvation and accepts the mentorship of Mr. Venning who adopts her as her Bearleader. Training her in the vampire ways, Jane learns how to drink blood to survive and rip out the throats of Frenchmen, all in defense of her country.
Jane is indoctrinated into the vampire world revealing the pleasurable and decadent side of the Damned by reading minds, overpowering mortal thoughts and partaking in feeding orgies. She is even introduced to an infamous Royal who she previously abhorred for his dissipation and vice, but she now befriends as a fellow vampire. She is pleasantly surprised to discover that not all of her kind are narcissistic as they join together to thwart the enemy. As Jane becomes more of a vampire she discovers that she has lost her ability to write and her affection for her family is diminishing, including her dear sister Cassandra. Torn between her new life of pleasure, power and passion or her love of writing and her family, Jane must choose between the decadent life of the Damned or the chance that her books will offer her immortality.
If the plot summary raised both eyebrows, just remember to go with the flow and have fun. Janet Mullany has been touted as the witty love child of Jane Austen and Lord Byron for good reason. She is sharp and acerbic and irreverent; presenting a literary mash-up of a Jane Austen bio-fic, vampires and Napoleonic battles into an adventurous “sick and wicked” concoction.
This is a vampire novel with Jane Austen in it, not vice versa, so be prepared to experience our Jane as never before. The story is high spirited, outrageous and at times shocking (Mr. Austen giving his daughter his blood & Jane ripping out the throats of her opponents), but I am fainthearted and swoon at the thought of a putrid throat. Since my vampire expertise extends to childhood memories of Dark Shadows and the recent movie of the novel Twilight, I can only attest to her Jane being a true bloodsucker and not the vegan variety that sparkles in the sunshine.
For those Janeites who were miffed at the notion of paranormal stuff in your Austen (a la Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) best to try stumbling upon something more traditional. If you are in the mood for a galloping Regency paranormal spiked with wit, irony and romance, get ready for Jane and the Damned.
4 out of 5 Stars
Jane and the Damned, by Janet Mullany
Trade paperback (292) pages
Cover image courtesy of HarperCollins © 2010; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2010, Austenprose.com