Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
TYPE OF NOVEL: Prequel to Emma, Alternate POV
TIME FRAME: Begins 30 years before Jane Austen’s Emma
SYNOPSIS: In Jane Austen’s Emma Mrs. Bates does not play too active a role in either the plot of the story or the village of Highbury. She mostly serves as a readily available companion for Mr. Woodhouse, a grateful beneficiary of the kindness of her neighbors, and the primary recipient of Miss Bates’s ceaseless chatter…I guess it is good that she is a “little deaf!” But we can imagine that as the wife of the vicar of Highbury, her role and participation in society used to be vastly different. What were those years like? What was Highbury like? In a new series that focuses on the Bates family, Allie Cresswell tells the story of Mrs. Bates, her daughters, and their experiences the years after Reverend Bates passes away.
WHAT I LOVED:
- Bucolic Highbury: I adore Highbury – it has the most charming small-village vibe of any Jane Austen novels. I love how the neighbors are so involved in each other’s lives, how everyone is always going out and visiting somewhere or sharing news. I loved how Ms. Cresswell beautifully emulated Jane Austen’s quaint yet bustling country village and embraced all its charming particulars. Even down to including the vital businesses and tradesmen that serve an important purpose there such as Mr. and Mrs. Ford, who own the mercantile shop, and Mrs. Stokes, who manages The Crown.
- The Knightley Family: It didn’t surprise me that I fell again in love with Mr. Knightley in this story. The surprise was that it was Mr. Knightley senior, in addition to eight-year-old George Knightley, who won my heart. I enjoyed seeing where George Knightley got his kind benevolence and upright morals. The Squire is responsible, just, and goes out of his way to assist those in need. I liked seeing his penchant for staying at home and avoiding big to-dos (just like his sons), yet I appreciated how active he is around the community. He is in many ways as admirable as his son.
- Unexpected Romances: It was so fun to see some romantic developments in this prequel – especially since these romances are a bit unexpected! I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will say there are multiple romances in this tale and I really appreciated the wonderful cleverness and perceptiveness of Ms. Cresswell in creating them. All were exceptionally well done. I wonder if these pairings ever crossed Jane Austen’s mind…
- Marie and Hetty: While the younger Miss (Jane) Bates features prominently in this novel, the main story arcs centered more upon Mrs. (Marie) Bates and her eldest daughter Miss (Henrietta) Bates. I loved seeing the personalities of these characters, who we meet 30 years later in Emma, fleshed-out. Marie is such a worthy heroine – I loved her selfless nature, her graceful handling of the haughty Mrs. Winwood, and how her heart gently and gradually opened to the possibility of love. In addition, I enjoyed witnessing Hetty engage in some reflection and self-evaluation. Even though her dialogue is mostly exhausting and sometimes inane, I enjoyed the subtle transformation her character undergoes.
- Little Details: I’m so impressed that Ms. Cressell encompassed so much Highbury history in this book. She fills in and creates interesting backstories for the Bates, Knightley, Woodhouse, and Weston families. In addition, she sets the stage ingeniously for the Highbury we know in Emma. I loved seeing Mr. Woodhouse’s first visit to Highbury, learning more about Mr. Weston’s family, and spotting the nods to people and places we know in Emma such as Randalls, Mr. Perry, and Mrs. Goddard.
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
That Highbury isn’t a real place I can visit!!
Beautifully and thoughtfully composed – Mrs. Bates of Highbury is an eloquent, humorous, and reverent prequel to Jane Austen’s Emma. I cannot wait to continue this series and journey back into Highbury with The Other Miss Bates.