Our Janeite sensibilities tell us that the notion of Jane Austen as a vampire is pretty wacky. It’s just so hard to visualize “our” Jane as one of the undead, still here after two hundred years, and struggling with life challenges and her condition. Author Michael Thomas Ford understands this too. He has created a trilogy based on our uncertainty, curiosity and proclivity for the burlesque that Austen herself was so fond of. Book one, Jane Bites Back, sold us on the concept that anything can happen in a Jane Austen inspired novel – even Jane as a vampire. It was “light, campy and a bit Buffyish” and we were truly “glamored.” But as any vampire aficionado knows, to be “glamored” means to be under the vampire’s mind spell which does not last forever. After over a year shouldn’t it have worn off, returning us to our cynical, defensive Janeite self? Book two, Jane Goes Batty, would have to be pretty darn good to dispel our doubts and resurrect our confidence. Our fingers were crossed, along with our corset strings.
Our twenty-first century Jane is still undead and living in Brakeston, a small university town in upper-state New York. The success of her novel Constance has changed her life considerably. In 1796 she may have wished to “write for Fame, and without any view for pecuniary emolument,” but now she has both as Jane Fairfax bestselling author. Her fans are arriving by the bus load and camping on her door step, a Hollywood movie crew has descended upon her hometown to film a glitzy star-studded version of her latest novel, and the hope of her next books success has garnered a fat advance. Life sounds pretty good, but not if you are a 235 old vampire who has thrived on anonymity and resisted advancing your powers in the undeadly arts.
Attempting to manage her life sensibly, she has promoted her friend and assistant Lucy to run her bookstore, Flyleaf Books, and welcomed her former lover George Byron (who also turned her) back into her life as a mentor. He is helping Jane to “develop her powers instead of run from them” in case “Our Gloomy Friend,” that pesky Bronte woman should make good on her threats. Her love-life is just where she wants it keeping patient boyfriend Walter in a holding pattern, and the town folk are none-the-wiser of her undead condition. With money, fame, friends and love in ones life, what’s to worry? Plenty. Walters Jewish mother Miriam arrives from Florida expecting her to convert, Jessica, her new demanding editor thinks she is an untalented plagiarist who should be writing a novel as good as Valley of the Dolls, and a vampire attack on one of the movie actors has Jane and Byron pointing fingers at one another. The challenges of keeping her true identity a secret, mastering her vampire skills, and the looming threat of another throw-down with an adversary from the past have her as distracted as Mrs. Bennet on her last nerve.
After the third chapter we remembered why we enjoyed the first novel in this series so much. Michael Thomas Ford is a wicked wit with a scoop of irony on top; a devilish combination that Austen whipped up and has been wowing us with for centuries. The premise of Jane Austen as a vampire is wacky – totally – but after we had been swept up in the frenetic pace, hilarious characters and outrageous parody, we were laughing out loud and startling our cats. Spirited, diverting and impertinent the “conceited independence” of this author knows no bounds. Watch out for a vicious three-legged Chihuahua, Ted and Ned the gay and straight, vampire and mortal, identical twins that we could never tell apart (nor could anyone else), eye rolling one liners by Lord Byron, a deranged vampire turned book reviewer (gulp), a surprise vampire hunter that is too close to home, and a poke at you gentle reader, if you are as inclined as we are to visit Jane Austen blogs and go to conventions in period costume! Our only quibble, and it is more of disapprobation, is that on more than one occasion we wanted to yell at this twenty-first century Jane Austen to find her inner Elizabeth Bennet or channel her Mary Crawford and get past the rag-doll syndrome that she was trapped in. It was almost all happily resolved by the end – like any Jane Austen novel should be – but we won’t tell. Of course Ford has left some plot points dangling that will, we hope, be addressed in book three, Jane Vows Revenge.
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Jane Goes Batty: A Novel, by Michael Thomas Ford
Ballantine Books (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose