Balogh, Mary, et. al. Bespelling Jane Austen. Don Mills, Ontario: HQN, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-373-77501-9. $14.95 USD.
Being an Austen purist, I often find the many Austen spinoffs tend to fall into two major categories: the author and/or publisher just slapped her name on the book or brought it up in promotion of the book to draw in sales, but the true Austen “spirit” is lacking, or the author doesn’t make enough changes to make it their own and justify its existence. The middle ground between the two is hard to navigate, but for the most part, Balogh, Gleason, Krinard, and Mullany succeeded in creating wonderful Austen-inspired stories.
“Almost Persuaded” by Mary Balogh
It is wonderful to see Mary Balogh try something a bit different, even though she remains within her familiar Regency setting. Hers perhaps has the loosest connections to its source text, in this case Persuasion, as her characters Robert and Jane grapple with the familiar theme of love in the face of societal obstacles that has kept them apart in many previous lifetimes. The story is not without Balogh’s signature heartwarming moments, including the revelation about the events that led up to their deaths in a previous life.
“Northanger Castle” by Colleen Gleason
Colleen Gleason breathes fresh life into Northanger Abbey, with this “vamp-y” take on the story. While I went in with some skepticism as to how the paranormal elements would come into play, given the source material revolves around the heroine’s overactive imagination, I was impressed by how Gleason reworked the concept to fit into a world where vampires exist. It was a delight to see how Caroline jumped to ridiculous conclusions about everything, and while she is definitely right to be suspicious about the elusive Lord R/Mr. Blanchard (she alternately calls him Lord Ruthven and Lord Rude prior to being properly introduced), the circumstances are of course not as she expected. I like how, while it does play with some of the familiar characters from the source material, there are still surprises to be had, especially in regard to the vampire element.
“Blood and Prejudice” by Susan Krinard
Susan Krinard captures and reworks Austen’s wit to a tee in her spinoff of Pride and Prejudice, from its giggle-worthy spin on the infamous opening sentence (“It is a truth universally acknowledged that every decent straight guy who isn’t dead broke, is in want of a good woman,” 175) to the perfect adaptation of every character’s voice to the other creative nods to the source material. But my favorite part was the reworking of Darcy into a vampire, amplifying some of the dark, broody alpha traits with some of the trends started by later authors, while keeping the essence of him as a character intact.
“Little to Hex Her” by Janet Mullany
I have mixed opinions on this one, as I loved the overall concept of Mullany’s story, but Emma has always been my least favorite Austen book, so the bulk of what I disliked is due to the characters in this one. Like the other works in the anthology, I did enjoy the way Mullany tied in concepts from the original, the world she built full of supernatural creatures, and the entertaining prose, sounding like how I thought a modern Emma would “speak.” However, considering it is a romance, I found that aspect weak. I did not feel the chemistry between Emma and Knightley, and she also has a sexual encounter with Frank at one point. Regardless of time period, I find it off-putting if either the hero or heroine has another sexual partner at such a late stage in the story, which given the length of the novella, I felt this was.