We know what you’re thinking: OHGODNOTANOTHERMONSTERMASHUPMAKEITSTOOOOOOOOOP! ANDHOWDARETHEYDOTHATTOJANEAUSTENANYWAY? While normally we might feel the same way, to tell the truth, we were intrigued by the description of Jane Bites Back the first time we read about it in Publisher’s Lunch. Admit it, Vampire Jane getting revenge on those who take advantage of her literary legacy kicks all kinds of butt in concept. It remained to be seen whether the author could follow through on that amusing premise. Fortunately, Michael Thomas Ford pulled it off; Vampire Jane is much more human and enjoyable than the chocolate-box saint that many Janeites have created in her image. She’s a lady—but with a bite.
Jane, now using the last name Fairfax (what? Not Anne Elliot?) owns a bookstore in upstate New York and has been trying for nearly two centuries to publish her novel, Constance. After 116 rejections, she is beginning to think that she’ll never be published again, even while a parade of other authors make millions off her work. She has turned into the stereotype of her own fans: a single woman of a certain age, sitting home at night drinking wine, eating chocolate, and talking to her cat. Then an editor falls in love with Constance and publishes it; it becomes a literary sensation, forcing Jane into the public eye and dredging up some things—and some people—she thought she had long since left behind.
Romantically torn between a mysterious stranger from her past, her hunky editor, and a nice guy from the neighborhood, Jane seems perfectly human and quite up-to-date, perhaps with a touch of neurosis, though fear not: she is not turned into Bridget Jones. Hiding her background gets her into a few scrapes, which help drive the narrative. She isn’t a “vegetarian” vampire, but only drinks enough to put her victims in a stupor, not kill them—and her victims tend to be the kind of people upon whom the Editrix exercises the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness, so we’re down with it. This Jane is quite lovable and only a tiny bit intimidating. We’d like to hang out with her.
We tend to read this kind of thing hypercritically (or as our critics like to to say, we are a tar-hearted humorless dried-up spinster purist), so we rolled our eyes over some things like the rather cliched identity of the Mysterious Man From Jane’s Past; but he proved to be such a roguishly charming character that by the end of the book we had grown quite fond of him. We were tripped up by some minor biographical errors, but realized we couldn’t remember them when we were done reading, so how bad were they, really? The only thing we can complain about is the excerpts from Constance, which quite frankly reads like some kind of dreadful melodrama and not at all what Jane Austen would have written. We think she would have abandoned it somewhere around 27 rejections and written something much more fun. But it’s not especially important to the story, and is meant to reflect the incidents going on in Jane’s own life, so no biggie. Perhaps the Editrix has had a vampire glamour placed upon her, or maybe we just really liked the book. We are leaning toward the latter. Yes, we really liked the book, and look forward to the sequel(s) and watching Jane deal with the parasites and philistines in her own special way. In the meantime, Jane, we’ll keep swinging the Cluebat of Janeite Righteousness on your behalf.
If you’ve read the book, please try to avoid spoilers in the comments. Thanks!