Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
What a novel experience it is to read a variation for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park! What happens in a Mansfield Park variation? Is it like a Pride and Prejudice variation – do Fanny and Edmund still end up together (just traveling a different path)? Or does the author shake things up a little more?
In Lona Manning’s contemplative and inventive variation she poses the questions:
- What if “a contrary wind” delayed Sit Thomas’s return to Mansfield Park by a few weeks?
- What if the rehearsals of Lover’s Vows continued unimpeded?
- What if Fanny was tired of being told she was an ungrateful burden to the Bertram family and decided to take control of her own future?
So many possibilities, right? With Sir Thomas’s continued absence and the increasing intimacy and suggestiveness of the theatricals, there is so much that happens! But sadly, Fanny isn’t there to witness it all. She has left Mansfield behind to seek a position as a governess. What will the Bertrams say when they notice Fanny’s absence? Will Fanny ever be reunited with her Bertram cousins? Or will her path continue to diverge from theirs?
Brava to Lona Manning for her thoughtful twists and skillful execution in this variation. This story was in no way predictable and it kept me guessing almost until the end! I really enjoyed not knowing what to expect and I enjoyed the slow and leisurely reveal. With every character there were some twists, so nothing was proceeding in a predictable or familiar way!
One aspect of this story that I enjoyed is Ms. Manning’s respectful renderings of Jane Austen’s characters. Her thoughtful and perceptive portrayals of these characters illustrate her keen understanding, and I’m happy to say she doesn’t take any character too far away from their original personality (like the film adaptations do!). I greatly appreciated the development of Fanny’s character throughout this story. (Forewarning: I’m not one of those readers who despise Fanny). Fanny has always earned my sympathy, and I admire her tender heart and how she strives to live by a strict moral code. In this story, we see more of how Fanny can be selfless and compassionate towards others. The Crawfords, on the other hand, did not rise in my esteem. Their selfishness and self-serving interests are heightened a little in this novel.
Another element of the story I enjoyed was the clever and subtle inclusion of several characters from other Jane Austen novels. It is always fun to detect a character and situation that sounds familiar. In addition, I enjoyed the new original characters that were introduced, and the spotlight on the abolitionist movement and British navy.
While I loved all the twists Ms. Manning implemented in her tale, I did find some of the later ones to be a little too sudden and abrupt for my taste. I think if they unraveled at more leisurely pace or with more of a build up it would have been better. But perhaps the author was trying to keep this story from being too long. 😉 However, the quicker action at the end and the several story threads left hanging made some things feeling a little more unresolved. (Definitely hoping for a sequel!)
A Contrary Wind is a praiseworthy and well-crafted variation of Mansfield Park. Through her prose and premise Lona Manning displays a comprehensive knowledge of the time period and an admirable devotion to Jane Austen and her world. A wonderful choice for readers who are looking for well-written stories that feature other Jane Austen novels.
Warning: Recommended for mature audiences due to a few intimate scenes and descriptions (nothing graphic).