Review by Allison T.
What kind of immortality would you choose: to be forever young, sexy, and beautiful and enjoy night after night of delightful orgies? Or to have your name on the binding of a book that may crumble away, unread?
That is the question posed in Jane and the Damned by Janet Mullany. The book bears the catchy sub-title “It’s more than her wit that’s biting,” and this is true because Jane, disappointed that a publisher has once again turned down her novel of two sisters who live in the country, attends the Basingstoke Assembly, where she bitten and made a vampire by a rather Darcy-ish vamp.
The waters of Bath are the only known cure for reversing the condition of the Damned, as they are known in Regency times, so the Austens take Jane and Cassandra to Bath, whereupon the French invade England and capture and control the city. Still learning how to control her en sanglant urges, Jane joins the rest of the Damned to fight back, donning men’s clothes to run like the wind through the city at night, tearing out the throats of French soldiers.
While it’s difficult to present a plot summary with a straight face, I have to say that I enjoyed Jane and the Damned. I am not a great fan of vampires (plus, the joke is over, folks) but Mullany writes very well indeed, and I was more than willing to go along for the ride.
As Jane becomes more and more a vampire and her reflection gradually fades away, she loses feelings of affection for her family, especially Cassandra. Just as bad, she cannot write any longer. Similarly, a fellow vamp (and a surprising one at that) who while mortal loved music, finds that his enjoyment of it has vanished. Yes, the blood and the orgies (here I’ll note that these are not particularly graphic, which is beginning to come as a relief) are great when you’re a vamp, but losing one’s soul apparently brings collateral damage with it.
There are two odd errors in the book—so odd that perhaps they are deliberate, and meant to help us place Jane and the Damned in an alternative universe. The first is a reference to Jane’s brother Edward as being a sailor; of course Edward was the brother adopted by the wealthy Knight family. The second is a reference to the back-view sketch of Jane made by Cassandra; here it is that Jane is the artist.
Mullany’s writing is graceful and witty along the line of Georgette Heyer, and I look forward to reading more by her. Vamps and supes are not to everyone’s taste (so to speak), but Jane and the Damned is on my short list of entertaining, supernatural-Austens.
Thus endeth the formal review. While I have the bully pulpit though, I’d like to comment on the oddity that so many writers—even those who love Austen—seem to feel that there was no way she could have written her six brilliant novels without having Been In Love (or been a vampire). While it is true that one’s experiences color a writer’s work and that writers are usually urged to write about what they know, I don’t think we have this obsession with other authors to deny their genius. Did Dostoevsky really commit a murder? Was Shakespeare really marooned on a desert island with a fairy and a magician and a creature? Of course not. And most of us have been in love, or been disappointed in love, but that condition has not turned us into Austens. Jane Austen was a brilliant, sharp-eyed observer who worked at her craft—love had nothing to do with it.
ETA: The author has kindly agreed to send a signed copy of Jane and the Damned to an AustenBlog reader. Leave a comment by Tuesday, October 12, at 10 p.m. U.S. Eastern time to be entered in the drawing. U.S. addresses only, please!