Among all the hype and circumstance, the highly anticipated Mr. Darcy, Vampyre will hit bookstores this week. Officially it has the honor of being the first vampire-themed Jane Austen sequel in print by a major publisher. I can assure you it will not be the last.
This clever concept is not new by any means. Fanfiction writers have been having fun with Austen and vampires for years. However, this book would not have been published without riding on the coattails of two Austen inspired best sellers: Twilight and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Publishers are banking on the combination of two hot genres to be combustible. It will take a talented writer knowledgeable in both Austen and vampire lore to pull it off. Having already written five Austen inspired sequels, Amanda Grange is an excellent choice to open the Austen-vampire Ball. Let’s hope she knows more than a little about vampires as well. She is treading over unconsecrated ground and could offend either camp or both! The only thing worse than an angry Twilight fan is a Janeite who has gotten her bonnet blown off by a foul wind of desecration.
Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy of Pride and Prejudice may be one of the most famous love stories in literature. Their uneasy courtship was wrought with misconceptions skillfully played out by Austen’s acerbic wit and romantic tension. When they finally realize they are in love and destined to be together, their wedding seems to insure a happily-ever-after that Austen is famous for. What Elizabeth had envisioned as their carefree wedding tour in the Lake District is altered by her new husband’s dour mood and abrupt change of destination. They will now travel to the Continent and visit Darcy relations in Paris, Switzerland, and Italy, making the Grand Tour.
As they travel in the style and comfort afforded the master and mistress of Pemberley, Elizabeth sees a dark change come over her husband. He is preoccupied and incommunicative; not at all the man that she grew to love during their courtship in England. In fact, the farther they travel, the more distant he becomes. She pours out her troubles and concerns by writing letters to her dear sister Jane. Foremost in any young bride’s mind is the consummation of their marriage which Darcy is avoiding. Moreover, Darcy’s formidable relations are more than just a bit odd and events along the way are unsettling. While in Paris Darcy’s cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam privately admonishes him for marrying her. On the road to Switzerland, his aunt Lady Catherine de Bourgh surprisingly appears expressing her displeasure at his disgraceful alliance, begging him to end it. As their carriage climbs the mountain road, the local people jump away and cross themselves as they pass. When they arrive in the Alps at his uncle Count Polidori’s castle, an ax displayed above a doorway mysteriously falls missing Darcy by inches. The servants say it is a sign that Elizabeth will cause his death. Later, a fortune teller warns her to beware. “There are dangers all around you …not all who walk on two legs are men…not all who fly are beasts.” When the castle is stormed by angry villagers, Darcy and Elizabeth flee into the mountains where they are attacked by the mob. In the confusion of the fight, they are separated. Against all odds, the crowd is subdued. Darcy is disheveled and unharmed except for the blood on his mouth. Elizabeth is horrified, thinking he is hurt. We suspect otherwise.
Their journey continues to Venice, and on to Rome. More seeing the sights, more friends and more subtle comments and minor events as the plot moseys along. The descriptions of the countryside and cities are similar to a vintage travelogue. Not only are the Darcy’s taking the Grand Tour, so are we. The scenes of the castle in the Alps, the fortune teller and the angry mob pay gentle homage to the Gothic novels so popular in Jane Austen’s time and parodied in her own novel Northanger Abbey. The difference here is this novel is not a burlesque or a spoof. It is deadly serious, and that is one of its foibles. Lack of humor. No Catherine Morland in her nightgown peering into a ponderous chest. Only poor Lizzy unhappily dragged about Europe, neglected by her husband, and totally unaware that his indifference is a front to his dark secret. When did our spirited and clever Lizzy become willing to put up with such treatment? She used to taunt and tease him into submission. Now she can’t seem to find him to put him in his place. Yes, he is a vampyre and he is tormented over not being able to tell his wife about his terrible curse, but there still needs to be some conversation to develop their relationship. Over three-quarters of the way into the book and I was still impatiently waiting for the big reveal. Is this really a vampyre novel? Where’s Darcy’s coffin with a bit of Pemberley terra firma thrown in?
I will attempt to forestall any reproof and readily admit that I admire Amanda Grange’s courage and creativity. The novel was a bold move that unfortunately did not fulfill my expectations. The final denouement did tie together all the loose bits, adding the requisite Austen happy ending. I will not reveal any spoilers but will allude to it being reminiscent of the opening of The Ark of the Covenant scene in the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark. Here the Vampyre and his lady are on a quest to break the curse through an ancient ceremony when we were treated to an unearthly spectacle of the classical four elements: earth, wind, fire, and water, but lacking any flying angels morphing into deadly avenging demons. I was, however, at that moment, reminded of Indiana Jones’ plea to his companion, “Marion, don’t look at it. Shut your eyes Marion.” in an attempt to save her life from the wrath of God. In a knee jerk reaction, I found myself yelling the same warning to Jane Austen in heaven.
3 out of 5 Regency Stars
Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, by Amanda Grange
Sourcebooks, Landmark, Naperville, Ill (2009)
Trade paperback (308) pages