From the desk of Lisa Galek:
There’s so much we don’t know about Jane Austen. Her sister, Cassandra, burned many of Jane’s letters when she died leaving many details of her life lost to time. Is it possible that the author of many of the world’s most memorable stories on love and marriage never married or had children of her own? In Aerendgast, Rachel Berman imagines a new history for our favorite author in a mystery adventure that’s one part Austen biography and one part The Da Vinci Code.
Violet Desmond doesn’t know much about her past. She was raised by her grandmother who never mentioned the truth about Violet’s parents or the tragic accident that left her an orphan. But, when Violet’s grandmother dies and leaves her a beautiful cameo necklace and a trunk filled with papers, Violet finally realizes she’s found the tools she needs to hunt down the truth… which also may have something to do with her favorite author, Jane Austen.
Violet’s been having strange dreams and visions about Jane. She sees things that couldn’t have happened—Jane Austen married and pregnant and then abandoned by her husband and her baby born dead. When Violet meets up with the disgraced antique dealer, Peter Kingston, he and Violet decide to set out on the trail to solve a centuries-old mystery that is sure to have some unexpected answers. Who is Violet really? And, more importantly, who exactly was Jane Austen?
Aerendgast starts out very promisingly and has a really intriguing premise. In the beginning, I mentioned The Da Vinci Code because both novels have the same basic hook. What if a famously unmarried person (in one case, Jesus, in the other, Jane Austen) was actually secretly married and… had a child?! What would that mean for future generations who have loved and appreciated that person’s work and life story? How could that change things today?
Not only is the premise strong, but Violet and Peter are really interesting characters with great backstories. Violet needs to find answers about her past. After her grandmother’s death, she realizes that her whole life has been a lie and she just has to figure out the truth behind her family’s strange and secretive history. Peter has just made a huge mistake in his professional life—delivering an impressive fake to a major museum—and now he’s been blacklisted. If he can only get his hands on something juicy—proof that Jane Austen was once a wife and mother, for example—then he’ll be right back in business.
The writing is clear and flows well throughout as the author packs the story with various background characters who are each intriguing in their own ways. We meet the haughty and possibly-up-to-no-good Lord Lockhurst and his henchman, George Carson, who always seems to be up for a bit of mustache-twirling villainy. There’s a police officer named Everett whose loyalties are extremely murky. And Violet’s friend and connection at Scotland Yard, Penny, also helps her crack the case when the stakes get really high and it’s obvious that there’s a whole lot of murder and foul play going on in this English manor.
But, sadly, the story falls apart a bit in the last few chapters. That’s where the characters and their motivations get a little fuzzy. Sure, Violet wants to find out about her past, but does she want to uncover answers so bad that she’ll keep going even once she’s sure that a bunch of very bad men are trying to kill her? There’s some sense that if she doesn’t find out the truth about Jane Austen in time that the villains will uncover these historical goodies first and destroy them. Maybe? A clearer and more defined “ticking clock” scenario might have helped to keep the tension going until the end.
And, generally, I’m not a huge fan of characters who randomly experience Jane Austen related hallucinations and don’t rush off to find the nearest neurologist. In one scene, Violet encounters the ghost of Jane Austen in Winchester Cathedral:
“The locket is just the beginning.” [Jane said]
“Your baby lived?” [Violet said]
“That is what I need you to find out, that is the reason I have been trapped here for so many years. I need to know what happened just as much as you do.”
“It seems the usual myth about ghosts and unfinished business is true. I have been wandering for hundreds of years, unable to find any peace.”
This made me really sad for Jane Austen. The woman was one of the greatest writers who ever lived, famous for her astute observations on human behavior and, yet, she can’t figure out if her family lied to her about her baby? Even after nearly 200 years of mulling it over as a ghost? Poor Jane! I’ll accept that these visions are a more vivid and interesting way for authors to show us the past, but this particular book might have benefitted from more straightforward and realistic sleuthing without bringing in the supernatural elements.
The story ends just as you probably guessed it might about halfway through. Yes, Jane Austen has a secret past. Yes, the good guys are good and the bad guys are very, very bad. I kept hoping to be surprised in the end—that someone or something might be not what it seemed. But, alas. The suspense that is built up throughout the entire book just sort of drops off after a chase sequence through some spooky catacombs. And then, it’s all over.
The book ends with another intriguing mystery idea—Violet and Peter are back on the hunt—this time it’s for a lost Jane Austen novel. The thought sounds like amazing fun! That’s an adventure I want to go on! Maybe next time, the journey will really live up to its potential.
3 out of 5 stars
Aerendgast: The Lost History of Jane Austen, by Rachel Berman
Meryton Press (2015)
Trade paperback & eBook (298) pages
Cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2015; text Lisa Galek © 2015, 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.”