Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford
Jane Bites Back: A Novel
I’ll admit that I haven’t been a fan of the recent surge of “quirk classics”, books that mash up classic literature with vampires and werewolves and their ilk. Nor have I really been tempted to peruse the rash of books that tell original stories within these classics while adding the aforementioned monsters. However, I was intrigued by Jane Bites Back, which sounded like it had a lighter touch than most of the others, and upon reading it, I found myself pleasantly surprised.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Two hundred years after her death, Jane Austen is still surrounded by the literature she loves—but now it’s because she’s the owner of Flyleaf Books in a sleepy college town in Upstate New York. Every day she watches her novels fly off the shelves—along with dozens of unauthorized sequels, spin-offs, and adaptations. Jane may be undead, but her books have taken on a life of their own.
To make matters worse, the manuscript she finished just before being turned into a vampire has been rejected by publishers—116 times. Jane longs to let the world know who she is, but when a sudden twist of fate thrusts her back into the spotlight, she must hide her real identity—and fend off a dark man from her past while juggling two modern suitors. Will the inimitable Jane Austen be able to keep her cool in this comedy of manners, or will she show everyone what a woman with a sharp wit and an even sharper set of fangs can do?”
I think what originally drew me to this book over all of the others out there is that Jane’s vampirism is treated lightly. That is to say, it’s not an ever-present thing that infuses every moment of the novel. Yes, it’s there and yes, it does influence some of the action, but not that often. On the one hand, this can make the vampirism crop up at what seem to be convenient moments, such as when Jane begins to suffer from blood hunger during a TV interview. On the other hand, not forcing the vampirism to the forefront makes it stand out from the crowd.
The vampirism is also an (admittedly convenient) excuse to move Jane forward in time to the modern era. This was the aspect that I most enjoyed: seeing Jane dealing with such books as this one, listening to people criticizing her novels, and generally knowing more than she lets on. The juxtaposition of someone from Victorian times and the vagaries of present day society is delightful.
I don’t recommend taking this novel as anything serious. It’s a fun, lighthearted romp and should be read as such. Unlike such books as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, this story isn’t out to reinvent anything or to startle and astound you with its darkness. And that’s what I liked most about it. I didn’t have to constantly be comparing it to Austen’s original works or absorbing a huge glut of explanatory backstory. Jane’s a vampire—that’s all you need to know.
It would be quite easy to blow through this novel in a long lazy afternoon when you want something distracting. It may not be ambitious, and it’s definitely not pretentious, but Jane Bites Back achieves what many others in this quirky little sub-genre can’t—it genuinely entertains.
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on September 28, 2011.