Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
The Other Miss Bates, book two in Allie Cresswell’s Highbury Series – a series that spotlights the Bates family and tells a bit of their history before the events of Jane Austen’s Emma – recommences with following Jane Bates (Hetty Bates’s younger sister) on her adventures abroad (which take place 30 years before Emma). Jane Bates has always longed to see the world and escape the confines of Highbury. Even though her years in such bucolic surroundings amongst friendly denizens were happy ones, Jane wants to continue expanding her knowledge of the world and experience new places. Because of the Bates’s financial circumstances, the only way for Jane to achieve her goals is through employment, which she gladly seizes upon when her uncle arranges for her to serve as companion to an invalid widow who lives in Brighton.
Jane’s employer, Mrs. Sealy, is a young widow confined to a wheelchair, but because of her charming personality, youthful vigor, and late husband’s position in the Navy, she is an active and popular participant in the Brighton social scene. And so while in Brighton Jane is able to enjoy society a little and make friends amongst other families that are residing nearby such as the Fairfaxes and the Churchills. Other acquaintances Jane encounters are her uncle, Captain Bates, who she meets for the first time, Arthur Sealy, Mrs. Sealy’s stepson who is bitterly dissatisfied with his reduced inheritance, and Lieutenant Weston, who Jane thinks of with some affection and attachment…
There is so much that I am loving about this thoughtful and wonderfully executed series. Similar to with Mrs. Bates of Highbury, I adore Ms. Cresswell’s perceptive characterizations, minute attention to detail, and reverence towards Jane Austen’s original story. In these prequels she does not set out to alter anything or anyone from Emma, instead she fabricates logical and believable past experiences that seamlessly flow into Jane Austen’s creations. I loved the unique developments Ms. Cresswell explores with these characters, she never goes with the most obvious or simple route.
It was especially fascinating to witness Ms. Cresswell’s characterizations for characters we only hear or know little about in Emma such as the Churchills – Mr. and Mrs Churchill (who later become Frank’s adopted parents) and Miss Louisa Churchill (who eventually becomes Frank’s mother). Such a dynamic group of personalities! Wow! I can see where Frank gets some of his impetuousness and carelessness from! And it was lovely to encounter the Fairfaxes – and see how Angus Fairfax became acquainted with Captain Campbell.
But perhaps what I loved most about this book is Jane Bates, who matures into such a steady and admirable heroine. Her selfless actions, quietly-nurtured hopes, and keen perceptions easily earn the reader’s regard. I appreciated her loyalty towards those she loves and her rational expectations – she isn’t one to let her dreams and desires rule her behavior. I took great pleasure in witnessing Jane experience and learn from the travails and emotional challenges she faces in this story.
If you love Austenesque stories that focus on developing the lives of secondary characters, I entreat you to give this remarkable series a try. Even if you are not the fondest of Emma, or the Bates family in particular, these discerning stories can be appreciated for their insightful creativity, compelling prose, and praiseworthy execution.
***Both Mrs. Bates of Highbury and The Other Miss Bates are being offered for the low price of $1.50 at the moment. Which I think is a sale price because Dear Jane, the third book in this series, is about to be released!! Do yourself a favor and treat yo’ shelf (ereader) to this lovely series!