Jane and the Damned
Curiosity has led to some interesting reads in the past. In this case it was combination of an author I’ve heard to be unique and witty (Janet Mullany), writing about a subject I’m sick to death of (vampires), set in an overdone era (Regency), starring a heroine that made me think “oh good gracious me” (Jane Austen). The experiment wasn’t a failure, but it wasn’t a wholesale success either.
Not that the author didn’t try. On the surface, Jane and the Damned offers excitement and enough facets to please a wide range of readers. The Regency lovers get real Regency prose. The setting buffs have an interesting alternate Regency setting, in which Revolutionary France invades England, vampires (the Damned) roam freely, and people travel to Bath to be cured of vampirism. The Austenites get to play Spot the Quote, with smatterings of borrowed/reinvented dialogue from various tomes. And everyone get a slice of Jane Austen’s life circa 1797 just after she finished Sense and Sensibility.
That’s all good. What I don’t know is how you’ll take the fact that Jane Austen gets turned into a vampire, learns hand-to-hand combat, kills French soldiers, and takes a lover.
Now, because curiosity is my besetting sin, I couldn’t put the book down. Would Jane give up her writing career to be a vampire? Would the French be defeated? And is that Great Historical Figure really one of the Damned? Riveting questions all, and Ms. Mullany presents some interesting solutions in her alternate world. I’m not a purist, so I don’t care how many liberties she takes.
However, plot and setting can only take you so far, and I just didn’t find the characters compelling. For instance, there was a cracking good setup for a romantic triangle between Jane, William (the vampire who created her), and Luke (the vampire who mentored and trained her). But all we get are occasional, inexplicable yearnings for William warring with romantic leanings towards Luke. As for the heroine herself – well, let’s just say I recognize her more as Jane Austen than as a heroine. Take out the Austen details and you have an acceptable but rather bland character.
It’s disappointing, because there was potential. Ms. Mullany’s prose is pleasing, although not extraordinary, and the integration of fact with fiction works very well. But in doing so the characters, and especially Jane herself, get the short straw. Considering Ms. Mullany is writing about one of the finest authors of characterization ever, that is highly ironic.