Ford, Michael Thomas. Jane Bites Back (2009). 320 Pages. Ballantine Books. $14.00
Have you ever picked up a book, and not expected anything from it, but been pleasantly surprised? Jane Bites Back was an impulse-grab off the new books shelves at the library. I was just there to pick up my holds. “I promise, I’ll be done in just a minute. I’m only grabbing one book and I’ll be right back!” My unfortunate (and non-bibliophilic) boyfriend does not enjoy trips to the library, so when he comes along I try to hurry. It works well if I’m attempting to limit myself to my holds.
Anyway, Jane Bites Back was on the shelf, and I couldn’t help picking it up. It’s even got a cover-blurb by Seth Grahame-Smith (of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) mentioning that it’s lovable. Having not loved anything about Pride and Prejudice and Zombies any of the several times I tried to read it, I took it as dubious praise at best. But I let myself get it (and Queen Victoria: Demon Hunter) off the new-books shelves.
I made the mistake of reading it while we drove home. Three chapters in, I realized that we were home, and that I was sitting in the car in our parking space. Whoops. It’s that good though. The premise is silly, but it somehow works– Ford is an author, writing about an author (Austen) who is writing about an author (Constance). Ultimately, Ford is writing an Austen-inspired book about an un-dead Austen who wholeheartedly disapproves of Austen-inspired books. It’s really quite funny how this works out.
A little over 200 years ago, Jane Austen was turned into a vampire. Shortly after, she “died,” and has been living under a series of pseudonyms ever since. In the last few years, she has become Jane Fairfax and purchased a bookstore in the town of Brakeston, NY. Due to a recent Austen craze, Jane has seen a lot of spin-offs and rip-offs appear (making her long for royalties and recognition she will never receive) and as a result is rather irritated that hacks who use her name can get published, while she cannot sell her own manuscript to anyone. It’s a failure, she knows this because she’s been trying to get Constance published since she “died,” and it’s still only a manuscript.
So, when she finally gets a letter from Kelly Littlejohn saying that Constance is brilliantly Austenesque, and that they would love to publish it, Jane is surprised. That is not the only one in store for her, and unfortunately not all of them are quite so pleasant. A “dark man from her past” (back cover) makes an unwelcome reappearance in her life, and makes unwanted advances. Meanwhile, Jane struggles to come to terms with her attraction to Walter Fletcher– a local carpenter– who Jane has refused repeatedly.
As if romantic entanglements weren’t enough for Jane to deal with, she’s also got a publicity tour– to Chicago and New Orleans– for her book. Things get really complicated while she’s away from home, and a surprising new villain appears in the latter half of the book (to help set it up for the sequel Jane Goes Batty from Ballantine Books, due February 2011.)
The book ends well, but leaves some things unfinished. It was clearly setting up for a sequel which will be out next year.
I really loved Jane as a narrator and a character– especially the way she changes– and I feel like she is a large part of the reason that I enjoyed this book. You want to like her (not just because she’s Jane-Freaking-Austen) and you root for her. The prose is solid, and the story is really fun, and light. There is a lot which is clearly being set up for future novels– not the least of which is Jane’s revelation of vampirism to loved ones (and how she avoids discovery). Perhaps it is because I didn’t expect anything from it, though I’m more inclined to think that this was just a surprisingly good book, but this novel gets a 5/5.