Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Austen-Inspired, Biographical Fiction
TIME FRAME: The summer of 1791, our beloved authoress is fifteen
MAIN CHARACTERS: Jane Austen, Cassandra Austen, Edward Taylor, Edward Austen, Elizabeth, Sophia, and Fanny Bridges
WHY I WANTED TO READ THIS NOVEL: So many reasons…but I’ll be brief – it is by Syrie James, an author who has written some of my most favorite novels including several magnificent gems about Jane Austen and her life.
SYNOPSIS: To celebrate the engagements of their two daughters – Fanny and Elizabeth, the Bridges family hosts a month-long house party and invite the Knights, the Austens, and other neighbors. Jane attends this house party with her older sister, Cassandra, younger brother, Charles, and their mother. It is there that Jane Austen has her first experience of love – not with Tom Lefroy, by the way!
WHAT I LOVED:
- Jane Austen at 15: Unlike other novels depicting Jane Austen’s life in her later years, this story shows us Jane Austen at the age of fifteen – a time where life was full of possibilities, romance, and pleasure. Like most fifteen-year-olds of her era, Jane Austen yearns to be out, to experience society, and attend all matter of parties, balls, and special outings. She does not have to face the many responsibilities, duties, or realities of her poor financial situation…just yet. I loved witnessing Jane Austen during this time period of her life. She had some silliness in her character, and is not as wise and proper as we see depicted in her later years, but I felt this portrayal accurate for an exuberant, romantic, and inexperienced young lady not yet out in society.
- Brilliant Characters: With a large house party involving several families and their progeny, there are many characters and personalities to keep track of in this tale. I found, as usual for Ms. James, all the characters were well-drawn engaging, and in possession of an assortment of quirks, foibles, and charms. I especially loved seeing how some characters showed small resemblances to some of Jane Austen’s future characters – following the theory that some of Jane Austen’s characters are inspired by people she knew and met in her real life.
- Full of Romance: Jane isn’t the only one falling in love in this tale. I loved seeing all the speculating, matchmaking, and flirtations. Of course, Jane and Edward’s were the most fun to witness! So many lovely scenes together, I can easily understand how Jane lost her heart to him so quickly. I also loved how Jane experimented with a little matchmaking! I really couldn’t predict how everything would turn out for all these young lovers!
- A Midsummer’s Night Dream: As a fan of Shakespearean comedies you cannot imagine my delight when I saw that the characters were going to produce and perform a home theatrical of A Midsummer’s Night Dream! I loved hearing all about the casting, rehearsing, and unexpected results of everyone’s participation in the play. Ms. James chose the perfect play to outline and echo the important themes of this novel.
- The Author’s Afterword: One of my favorite aspects about biographical fiction novels is learning how the author crafted the story from true events and people. Reading the Author’s Afterword for this novel made my jaw drop…I’m so very impressed and amazed with how much research, truths, and actual events/people were used as the foundation of this story. It is more than you would think! Big applause to you, Syrie James!
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Part of the Conclusion: Definitely a minor quibble. Everything seemed to wrap-up and conclude rather quickly, and for me, the closure felt a little abrupt. However, that might be because I desperately did not want to see this story come to an end! 🙂
Imaginative, thoughtful, and expertly crafted – Syrie James has done it again! With her dexterous blend of truth, supposition, and fiction her stories creatively and beautifully render the life, romances, and secrets we all dearly wish Jane Austen to have had.
***If you have yet to read anything by Syrie James and are curious what I’d recommend, here are some of my faves!
– The Lost Memoir of Jane Austen – a beautiful love story for our dear Jane!
– The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte – just exquisite…
– The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen – what if another Jane Austen novel was discovered?!?