Ballantine, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-345-51365-6
Michael Thomas Ford decides that risking death from being impaled by the sharp fingernails of a hundred furious purist fans of Jane Austen is worth having Jane Bites Back, the first book in a series, published and earning him a very nice sum of money.
You see, in this story – or rather, series, Jane Austen is a vampire. In this book, she current resides in Brakeston, a college town close to Upstate New York, and opens a bookstore called Flyleaf Books. As Jane Fairfax, she lives apart from the folks around her, determined to keep a distance in order to maintain her charade as a human, although she is attracted to Walter Fletcher, the local carpenter who of course reads a lot in order to qualify him as a Sensitive Manly Man.
The thing is, Jane can only watch as her books keep selling without getting a cent from those brisk sales. She can only cringe as other authors hop on the bandwagon and write embarrassing sequels and prequels to Pride and Prejudice, cover her face in dismay as travesties like The Jane Austen Cookbook are published, and wonder when her books have become synonymous with romance stories of breathless ingénues waiting for their Mister Darcy to save them from their dreary existence. To top it off, Constance, her book that she has been stubbornly working on for the last 200 years, has received 116 rejections so far.
But when Constance is finally picked up and she is thrust into the limelight as the next big literary and romance darling, Jane will reunite with folks from her past as well as gain an enemy in the form of a die-hard Brontëist.
Jane Bites Back is like a woman who can’t make up her mind what she wants to wear for a party. First, it is an amusing satire on the Jane Austen craze. Shortly after, it morphs into a chick-lit novel with Jane complaining about her blessed life all the time, with some romance thrown in as Mr Ford sets up the seeds for a love triangle to happen between Jane, Walter, and the guy who turned Jane into a vampire. Then the author decides to turn the story into a suspense story, before settling for a denouement more appropriate for a cheesy urban fantasy romance.
Because this book keeps switching gears from genre to genre, everything about this story feels underdeveloped as well as underwritten. Jane is acerbic, brittle, and lonely, but that’s all there is to her in this story. More disappointingly, she doesn’t do anything in this story – everything that happens here is Jane’s reaction to the events around her. Of course, you can argue that after 200 years of existence, Jane can be excused for not being more proactive in her own story, but still, an underwritten heroine who doesn’t do anything is not a good thing when the story is already so forgettable.
The problem with the story is that, after the novelty of Jane Austen being a vampire wears off, it doesn’t have much surprises in store. The guy who turned Jane turns out to be exactly the person I expected him to be, and I can correctly figure out the identity of the villain long before the author’s big reveal. The satirical elements taper off after a few chapters into the story, which is a most unfortunate development because everything that is left is lifeless and predictable.
Jane Bites Back makes a pleasant gift for that humorless person who claims to be an expert on Jane Austen when all she does are watching Pride and Prejudice three hundred times and writing fanfiction based on her sexual fantasies revolving around Colin Firth in period costume, if only for the pleasure of seeing her foam at the mouth while she reads this book. But as a story, it lacks that special kind of pizazz and is therefore far from entertaining. This is a book marketed as prime entertainment, but it’s as tasty as soggy cornflakes.