From the desk of Katie Jackson:
Dear readers, we are living in a golden age, filled to brimming with a wealth of Jane Austen-inspired tales that creatively explore the endless possibilities of her beloved characters. We are rich, indeed, my friends, and A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies Book 3 is a fine addition to our Austenesque universe. Comprised of six novellas crafted by skilled authors, we are treated to a wide variety of alternatives.
“The King of Hearts” by Robin Helm is a Pride and Prejudice continuation centered on the oft-ignored Kitty Bennet. At the age of 20, she is Elizabeth Darcy’s only unmarried sister. “I am very nearly on the shelf. She sighed. I must be extremely unattractive. Or foolish. Or dull.” (134) As the guest of honor at a ball hosted by the Darcys in London, Kitty soon has suitors sprouting from the woodwork while some surprising intrigue simmers in the background.
“You’ve Got to Kiss the Girl” by Laura Hile is a Pride and Prejudice variation that includes Lady Catherine’s point-of-view alternating with Mr. Darcy’s and Elizabeth’s. “For the past decade, she had hinted, suggested, nagged, cajoled—even commanded him. But did Darcy propose to Anne? No.” (1231) Desperate, Lady Catherine gets a devious idea from a “rubbishy novel left lying about” (1262) to take matters into her own hands, with unexpected consequences.
“A Step Too Far” by Wendi Sotis is a Pride and Prejudice variation wherein Darcy and Elizabeth meet unexpectedly when he witnesses her fall and comes to her rescue soon after his arrival at Netherfield and several weeks before the Meryton assembly. Without all of the misunderstanding from that original event and the interference from Wickham soon after, they are free to form an acquaintance based solely on their first impressions of each other. Darcy learns early on about Elizabeth’s familial links to trade and her father’s small estate and is determined to resist his feelings for her, to honor his family duty. “Love-matches were just not done. Darcy was forced to pay attention to the rules of society.” (3509) As Elizabeth recuperates at Netherfield, however, their mutual admiration only grows stronger.
“John Knightley Wins a Wife” by Barbara Cornthwaite is an Emma prequel from the point-of-view of George Knightley’s younger brother John, who is infatuated with the darling of the London season, “a heartless little flirt,” (4123) according to George. In an attempt to gain the permanent affections of said flirt, John agrees to bring her wild younger brother to Donwell Abbey with him for a few weeks of quiet activities in the countryside. John soon discovers that his guest is still a rakish prankster even in mild Highbury. When childhood friend Isabella Woodhouse becomes involved, John’s eyes begin to open to other possibilities. “Sometimes searching earnestly for something seems to keep you from finding it, and at other times you find exactly what is needed when you were not looking for it at all.” (4792)
“Charming Miss Dashwood” by Chautona Havig is a Sense and Sensibility continuation centered on the youngest Dashwood sister. As a guest of Colonel and Mrs. Brandon at Delaford, Margaret is quite content to spend her days reading her way through their extensive library. Her peace is disturbed by the arrival of Lieutenant Conrad Thayer, on a mission to deliver important documents to the Admiralty. “‘The Colonel said a Navy man would be commandeering the library while he visited.’ She scowled at him as she gave him a full examination.” (5043) Action ensues as villains attempt to intercept the dispatch. All the while, headstrong Margaret makes an unforgettable impression on the wary lieutenant.
“In the Looking Glass” by Mandy H. Cook is a Pride and Prejudice sequel following the adventures of Charles and Jane Bingley’s intrepid daughter, Fanny—one of 11 siblings—on her 20th birthday. Her peculiar and whimsical escapades result in an encounter with a stranger and slowly his story unfolds with an unexpected twist.
As is typical for novellas, these stories were mostly fast-paced and the happily-ever-afters were at times a bit unbelievable although always satisfying. I was reminded of Mr. Darcy’s statement to Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice: “A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.”
All of the stories were enjoyable, but my favorite of the anthology was the clever and entertaining “You’ve Got to Kiss the Girl” with its unique premise and perfect use of alternating viewpoints. The interactions between Darcy and Elizabeth had me laughing and wishing for more. In a close second-place finish, the swoon-worthy “A Step Too Far” was a charming recreation of the original tale and left me with a contented sigh. The stories about Austen’s secondary characters were particularly enjoyable as I considered each character in a new light and at times caught small references to events from canon.
An anthology by different authors is like a multi-flavored treat, each taste appealing in its own way, but a little bewildering one right after the other. An anthology inspired by Jane Austen’s classic stories, however, is about as smooth a mixture as one can get, with all of the flavors complementing one another in a glorious assortment of her beloved characters swirled in one delicious cup for our enjoyment. My only complaint is that my treat was limited to just six little bites when I could have easily consumed a gallon of each. A Very Austen Romance is a rich exploration of all the charming romance and zesty banter any Austenesque connoisseur would love to savor.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
A Very Austen Romance: Austen Anthologies (Book 3), by Robin Helm, Laura Hile, Wendi Sotis, Barbara Cornthwaite, Chautona Havig, Mandy H. Cook
Independently published June 12, 2020
Trade paperback & eBook (565) pages
Cover image courtesy of Inedependlty Published © 2020; text Katie Jackson © 2020, Austenprose.com