Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford is the first book in his Jane Fairfax series. Ford begins with the premise that Jane Austen never died, but was turned into a vampire. Now some two hundred years after her transformation, Jane owns a quaint bookstore in upstate New York and has been trying to get another book published for as long as she has been a vampire. Jane’s life is full she has a friend in her assistant Lucy and the attentions of a steadfast handyman, just like any normal woman. There is this little thing where she feeds by sipping from strangers while placing them in a stupor, but mostly normal. Unfortunately, her novel Constance has been rejected 116 times and she is just about to give up on getting it published when Jane finally gets positive feedback. She’s in a tizzy, trying to decide what kind of clothes she will need for her trip to New York City. Things start to get even more complicated when a man from her past arrives in her small town and pays some unwanted attention. Plus, Jane must use her trade mark wit, common sense, and dash of wicked good humor to deal with crazy fans who accuse her of plagiarism.
I honestly wasn’t sure if I would like this book, though the back cover blurb intrigued me and I could see it would be a quick read. I decided to check it out from the library on the off chance I might. I didn’t like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies because I felt the additional writing about the zombies was nothing like Austen’s prose. I was afraid of feeling the same way about this book, but from the minute I started reading it on the train, I couldn’t put it down. Ford doesn’t try to compete with Austen’s prose, or take himself seriously, he just writes a good novel based on a funny premise. I think it helps that he moved his character Jane Austen out of her own timeline and writing (mostly). I view her in this book more as a character than any kind of historical representation of the woman herself. By distancing himself from Austen’s own work (mostly) his absurd premise takes on a life of his own and he creates warm and interesting characters. His writing is full of humor and ends up serving as a witty commentary on fandoms of hot selling series.
I was a little unnerved by Jane Austen having a sex life, I’ll be honest. In my head she’s a favorite spinster aunt, but that may just be me and it wasn’t all that risque even if it felt like it. I liked the discussions of books between Jane and her friends, as she is after all, a bookkeeper. Ford’s nods to other writers of Austen’s time (or thereabouts) made me feel as though I belonged to a really good book club that could discuss a multitude of literature. The mystery in the story was all well and good though I had it figured out LOOOONG before the “twist” was revealed. I thought it was a fun read, and like all good Austen heroines Jane Fairfax aka Jane Austen learns something about herself in the end, while gently prodding the reader to examine themselves as well.