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REVIEW: Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany

Dear Ms. Mullany,

When I heard you were going to write a Regency paranormal, my initial thoughts were, “Why?” No, actually they were more along the lines of “You’ve got to be shitting me. Jane Austen as a vampire?!” But when the publicist sent me a copy, I couldn’t resist at least trying it because, after all, it’s a Janet Mullany book.

Jane and the Damned: A Novel  Janet Mullany When Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra attend the Basingstoke Assembly Rooms, Jane never expects that one of the visiting Damned will dance with her, then flirt with her then, on a moment’s impulse, convert her. But changed to one of the Damned she is. Her only hope to undo what has been done is to take the waters at Bath so she, her parents and her sister journey there to the home of her aunt and uncle.

While at the Pump Room, Jane meets another vampire. To his horror, Luke Venning learns that Jane’s creator has abandoned her with no instructions. After allowing her to feed on his blood, he urges her to rethink her plans as attempting the change can be deadly but as a clergyman’s daughter Jane can’t imagine being doomed to hell should she be killed. As well, her ties to her human family are still strong.

All goes by the wayside, however, when the unthinkable occurs. After 700 plus years, England is invaded. The French begin to take the port towns then move inland, arriving at Bath and setting up a Republic. Jane realizes that as a vampire she will be able to answer the call to defend her country and thus begins her association with the Damned. As Jane learns more about her condition, is around those who accept her new status and begins to find love, her determination to try to revert is shaken. While the battle for Britain rages, what will Jane decide about the fate of her own soul?

In for a penny, in for a pound – while writing a paranormal in which a beloved English writer becomes a vampire, why not alter history a bit and allow the damned Frenchies to invade “This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England?” I will admit to being almost as shocked when the French troops arrived as were the citizens of Bath. England invaded? Unthinkable. But you do a marvelous job of portraying the unthinkable and seem to have relished the doing.

I’m no Austen expert so I will have to defer to those who are about how well you incorporate book quotes plus the known events and people of her life into the book. However, as this is also told as an alternate history story, exceptions have obviously been made.

The book begins with the style of sly humor I’ve come to expect from your writing. But later this ebbs away due to the serious nature of events portrayed. I can’t help but mourn this loss as this is something I look forward to while reading your books. Yet on the other hand, it would be hard to make some of the end scenes of the book funny and maintain the intense tone and tension.

I enjoyed the mix of proper young gentlewoman meets new existence as a vampire. It makes sense that in this world in which etiquette and social position are paramount, Jane would have to learn a whole new set of social rules. One must be proper at all times and if one is a vampire, one must be a properly behaved vampire. I also like how you make Jane be torn between the delights of her new existence and her dismay at losing her beloved family as well as her clergyman’s daughter’s despair at now being one of the Damned.

The outcome of the invasion ends the way I thought it would. Though the trip there meanders a touch and includes a whiff of the melodramatic. Jane see-saws back and forth about her options and in the end, though I can understand her final choice, it does underscore my main problem with the book. Why make Jane Austen become a vampire? Why not just have the main character be a young English gentlewoman?

And why have another important historical figure join her as one of the Damned? Given the reason he was changed, it doesn’t even make sense for this person to be in Bath and join the other Damned in their fight against the French. And as for Jane, though it’s amusing to imagine her with fangs, in the end I can’t help but feel it’s merely jumping on the Jane bandwagon and cashing in on the current popularity of all things Jane Austen-ish.

Ultimately, I find the book hard to grade. It’s well written, will amuse and entertain many and is certainly different from the usual follow up books written from the POV of the housekeeper at Pemberley. I read most of it in one day and wanted to know how the story would unfold. It kept my attention and I’m not sorry I read it. But I still have that initial question in my mind. “Why?”

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

24 Comments

  1. Jen
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 12:29:58

    Where do all of these keep coming from? Seriously, I’m officially no longer curious what would happen if [insert literary or historical figure here] lived in a world where there were [insert supernatural creature of pop culture note here] exist.

  2. joanne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 13:04:06

    Historical paranormal romances (good ones)are hard to find and normally I would be on this book like white on rice – but Jane Austen as a vampire – even with Ms Mullany’s wonderful writing – is a complete turnoff for me.

    I’ll ask too. Why? Why not name the heroine Jane Something-else (way too many hyphens in this comment) and then write the book?

    I guess they must sell, just not to me.

    Nice review though, thank you.

  3. DianeN
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 13:26:51

    I attribute this phenomenon to publisher envy. One book succeeds wildly (Pride & Prejudice & Zombies) so why not publish ten more just like it? Or twenty? Or a hundred? And if it’s okay for Elizabeth Bennet to be a vampire, wouldn’t it be even cooler if Jane herself were one?? I swear, this has to be how publishers think. And to an extent, it’s probably also how readers think, as witness the extraordinary sales revolving around whatever the topic du jour may be. I can’t bring myself to blame the writers who jump on the bandwagon, because of course they want to write whatever is currently selling. But what I don’t think publishers understand is that we readers get tired of novelties like this one long before they stop publishing them! It’s starting to look like vamps and shapeshifters are giving way to steampunk. Right now it’s fun and different. In a few months I’ll be sick of it!

  4. Jayne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 13:59:12

    @Jen: I started getting tired of ‘insert famous person’ books when the craze was for mysteries. Queen Elizabeth solves murders. Beau Brummel solves murders. I think there was even a Jane Austen solves murders series. So I hadn’t been tempted to try any of the new paranormal books until this one and that was only because of who the author is.

  5. Jayne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 14:08:14

    @joanne: So is it the fact that it’s a vampire book or a Jane Austen in a paranormal book or both that was the main turn off for you?

  6. Jayne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 14:09:08

    @DianeN: Amen, sister.

  7. joanne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 14:34:01

    @Jayne: Oh I’m a vamp-lover from way back when vampires were ugly and definitely not the hero. An author gives me a vampire storyline and generally I’d give their book a try.

    It’s the Jane Austen ‘thing’. And (poor, put-upon) Mr Darcy with zombies and the rest of the famous characters, both real and fictional that I’m not buying.

    Obviously it’s a matter of things appealing to some readers that don’t appeal to others. I hear-tell there’s a certain unnamed by me (JANE) reviewer that’s not crazy about vampires. *g*

  8. jmc
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 15:40:49

    @Jayne: On Jane Austen solving mysteries, there is definitely a series, but I’d give that author (Stephanie Barron) a pass, since the series began in 1996 and predates the glut of famous people becoming detectives (I think) and the paranormal mashups.

  9. Jen
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 15:47:15

    @Jayne Beau Brummel can’t solve murders! His shoulders won’t fit through doors!

  10. Janet Mullany
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 15:51:25

    Dear Author, imagine the shock and horror that I experienced upon receiving a C review!

    Well, after picking myself up off the floor and taking a good swig from my restorative cordial, and actually *reading* the review, it wasn’t that bad (they still like me. Really, they still like me).

    Here’s the deal, the inside story. HarperCollins asked me to do a Jane Austen-paranormal book. So I thought about it some and realized that the only way I could do the book was to be absolutely over the top, tongue in cheek, fang in throat. I didn’t want to have Austen as some sort of polite onlooker although she was a brilliant observer; and despite the cleanup job by her family members after her death, it’s possible dear old Aunt Jane wasn’t that polite. Read her letters and look out for the occasional vicious and deliciously rewarding bits of snarkiness and you’ll see what I mean.

    I didn’t want to do a sequel, prequel, or a book starring the Dashwoods’ dogs as werewolves. It kept coming back to Austen and the trope others have used before: how did Austen do what she did given the limited circumstances of her life? Now I admit that’s a bit insulting to her genius–she didn’t need Tom Lefroy even if he is Tumnus the Faun explaining to her what Lurrrrve and Real Life are all about.
    And the only way I could do that was to have her as a vamp. I felt anything other than that was a copout for me. So this isn’t a mashup, it isn’t Darcy and Lizzie blissfully bumping boots in the Pemberley wedding suite, or Jane as a detective, wedding planner, structural engineer, etc.

    I agree that the book is a bit low on laughs. Sorry about that.

    And thanks for a pretty good review. Really.

    p.s. Beau Brummel as a detective? I really recommend the brilliant Julian Kestrel series about a Regency dandy turned detective by the late Kate Ross.

  11. Jayne
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 15:57:55

    @Janet Mullany:

    p.s. Beau Brummel as a detective? I really recommend the brilliant Julian Kestrel series about a Regency dandy turned detective by the late Kate Ross.

    Got to totally agree there. I think I even reviewed the last book here a few years ago. Her loss at such a young age truly was tragic.

  12. DS
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 16:10:29

    I like Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen books. I haven’t read the last couple, Jane and the Barque of Frailty and Jane and the Madness of Lord Byron but I am going to order them both right now. I’m glad your comment made me look her up because I wasn’t aware that she had continued the series. Barron (AKA Francine Matthews) does a good job of weaving her research into the story.

  13. ka
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 16:19:16

    It all boils down to personal preferences. As DA’s Janet wrote in a recent post, the core stories have already been told. It is now the author’s voice (and perhaps a few twists) that differentiates the same story lines.

    For me, I can accept Jane as a Vampire who fights off the French (a long standing fear of the Brits living on the England’s coast line). In contrast, I cannot relate to steam punk. Yet variety is the spice of life!

    If ever there was an author to tinker with Jane Austen, it would be Janet. Her wit is spot on. I enjoyed this book!

    Janet has been interviewed on several blogs about this book and the Anthology Bespelling Jane Austen with Mary Balogh, Colleen Gleason, Susan Krinard, and Janet. You can look up her interviews on Risky Regencies, Word Wenches, and others.

    Stephanie Barron writes the Jane Austen Mysteries and Laurie King continued the Sherlock Holmes mysteries with Mary Russell as his assistant. And then Guy Richie reinvented Sherlock Holmes as an action hero – I loved it but my husband hated it. So publishers and producers are going to try anything and everything to interest the book buy and moving going public.

  14. MaryK
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 16:45:56

    Completely OT –
    @ka:

    Stephanie Barron writes the Jane Austen Mysteries and Laurie King continued the Sherlock Holmes mysteries with Mary Russell as his assistant. And then Guy Richie reinvented Sherlock Holmes as an action hero – I loved it but my husband hated it.

    Have you seen the previews for Masterpiece Mysteries’ new Sherlock Holmes series? Looks awesome!
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/sherlock/series1.html

  15. Maili
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:12:30

    @MaryK:

    Have you seen the previews for Masterpiece Mysteries' new Sherlock Holmes series? Looks awesome!
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/masterpiece/sherlock/series1.html

    It’s absolutely fantastic. (OK, the second episode is a bit weak, but overall, the series are fabulous.) IMO, better than Guy Ritchie’s attempt. Having said that, I do think Ritchie (and the cast) has captured the spirit of the series quite well. I enjoyed it a lot.

    And I truly second Janet Mullany’s recommendation of Kate Ross’s Julian Kestrel series. I agree with Jayne that Kate Ross’s passing is such a tragedy.

  16. ka
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:23:25

    @MaryK: Thanks for the heads up – I’ll see if my local PBS will carry it! I enjoy all incarnations of Sherlock Holmes, but my heart belongs to Jeremy Brett, who starred in the Granada productions that PBS had ran for a while. My mother is British and I grew up visiting my Grandmother in Devon. So I am mesmerized by the scenery, especially Dartmoor in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

    Sherlock Holmes occasionally tangled with other worldly activities … why not Jane?

  17. MaryK
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:23:29

    @Maili: Oh, it’s aired over there already! I didn’t even think of that. It starts here this week, I think. I’m glad to hear it lives up to its promise.

  18. ka
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:25:16

    @Janet Mullany: Yes, Janet, your fans love you!

    In fact, we’d like you to read the book for the audio version!

  19. MaryK
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:29:54

    @ka: Yes, Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes as far as I’m concerned. The only way I can watch other film versions is if there’s a twist like “action hero” or “modern Sherlock.” A faithful rendition starring someone other than Brett wouldn’t work for me.

  20. ka
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 17:44:45

    @MaryK: My Grandmother loved Jeremy Brett. She had seen him live in a local theater in his younger days. His Sherlock is spot on!

  21. Miranda Neville
    Oct 19, 2010 @ 18:28:29

    My normal reaction to Jane Austen as a vampire would have been massive eye rolling. But since Janet Mullany wrote it I devoured it in a sitting and laughed a lot and even teared up a little. Jane and the Damned is very clever book and much more besides.

  22. olivia
    Oct 20, 2010 @ 14:30:02

    Try as I might, I can’t suspend disbelief enough to accept Jane Austen as a vampire. Her father was an Anglican minister, so were her brothers, and she was quite devout. I wonder whether this is stressed in the novel…someone will have to tell me because I don’t intend to read it.

    I haven’t got so much difficulty accepting P&P&Zombies or S&S&Seamonsters because that model is basically a form of fanfic. Usually I don’t have a problem with alternate views of historical persons. Maybe it’s just because this one is about Jane…I dunno. Different strokes and all that, I guess.

  23. Janet Mullany
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 12:15:48

    Her father was an Anglican minister, so were her brothers, and she was quite devout. I wonder whether this is stressed in the novel…someone will have to tell me because I don't intend to read it.

    You bet I do. But why do you want to know if you’re not going to read it?

  24. Jayne
    Oct 25, 2010 @ 14:14:59

    @Janet Mullany:

    You bet I do. But why do you want to know if you're not going to read it?

    I have to admit that I wondered the same thing.

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