Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Publisher
Imagine being sent on a mission to travel back in time to meet Jane Austen! To meet her in the year 1815 and retrieve – not only many of lost letters that Cassandra destroyed before her death – but a full-length manuscript of The Watsons that Jane Austen herself destroyed before her death!
In a highly risky and rigorous mission, Dr. Rachel Katzman and her colleague, Liam Finucane – after many months of study, practice, and preparation – are about to embark on a one year exhibition to 1815. In order to have any chance of success on their mission, they must ingratiate themselves with the Austen family and become welcomed friends in their homes. Posing as a brother and sister who just recently relocated to England after selling their sugar plantation in Jamaica, Rachel and Liam seek an introduction to Henry Austen, who, if they play they card rights will introduce them to Jane Austen.
Even after a mishap or two, Rachel and Liam find themselves exactly where they wished to be – close friends with Henry and Jane Austen. But this doesn’t mean their success is guaranteed. For one thing, several members of the Austen family aren’t entirely welcoming or warm towards them. In addition, even though they are friends with Jane Austen, extracting private documents from her room isn’t easy work. And lastly, one of the main directives for time travel is to not change history in a significant way. This rule becomes very challenging for our time travelers to follow, and both start to panic when they feel that some of the small ripples of change they made in the lives of others might inadvertently be changing history.
Oh wow – Jane Austen, time travel, a precarious secret mission, a completed but then destroyed manuscript of The Watsons?!? This story had me spellbound from the first page. The premise is brilliant – our time travelers are searching for the answers to questions we have always asked – Why wasn’t The Watsons completed? What is in those letters Cassandra destroyed? But what really kept me turning pages was how skillfully and thoughtfully it was all executed. It is very evident that Kathleen Flynn did an enormous amount of research for this tale. She knew all the minute details of the Austens’s lives around this time (such as when someone fell ill or traveled), and adeptly illustrated the big and small ways 1815 would look and feel different to someone from the future (such as how women would never act with authority). And I thought her portrayals of the Austen family and their dynamics towards each other felt utterly spot on.
Aside from it being a very riveting story that left me wondering how it would all end, what I enjoyed most about this tale was our two main characters and their interactions with each other. Rachel is adventurous, intelligent, and kind of anti-monogamy/marriage. Liam is a little aloof, sensitive, and currently engaged to another woman. At first both are just working towards completing the mission and making an important discovery, but the complexities of their situation – the emotional isolation, the close quarters – begins to develop their relationship in a new direction… What will that mean when they return to the future? (Providing they do make it back to the future…)
While I adored so much of this time travel tale, my one small quibble is that the ending felt a little bit rushed. There were many questions that were answered and explained in a short period of time, but with one aspect of the conclusion I felt there was too little said (my romantic heart always wants more!). Regardless of my small quibble, I found The Jane Austen Project to be an enthralling and well-crafted adventure full of mystery, history, authenticity, and romance! A great choice for readers who long for the chance to travel back in time and meet Jane Austen! I sincerely hope we see more from Ms. Flynn soon!
Note: With some uses of adult language and adult situations, I’d recommend this book for Mature Audiences.