Michael Thomas Ford,
Jane Bites Back
(Ballantine, 2010)

What would Jane Austen think if she knew how enduring her works of literature had become? Can you imagine her reaction if she knew about the paper dolls, exercise books, gardening books, self-help books, cookbooks and sundry other materials that fed off her name? How would she feel if she knew that her great novel Pride & Prejudice had been reworked with zombies?

Well, fortunately we can ask her. According to Michael Thomas Ford's new novel, Jane Bites Back, Jane Austen is still creeping around. She calls herself Jane Fairfax, she's a vampire, and she runs a bookstore in upstate New York.

Jane's made a pretty good, if lonely, life for herself. The only real disappointment is the rejection slips she keeps getting for her latest book, Constance, which she finished writing shortly after her death and has been revising and re-submitting to publishers ever since. Oh, and she's had a few uncomfortable run-ins with avid Bronte fans, too.

But it turns out that the vampire who turned her -- I won't reveal his identity, but I will say he's a famous literary figure as well -- is still around and looking to reconnect with his favorite victim. If she doesn't agree to it -- and, let's face it, Jane isn't all that fond of him or his writing -- then the people around her will pay. And, despite her best intentions not to get too close to anyone -- if for no other reason than she can't bear to see them grow old and die -- she has assembled a nice group of friends, and maybe even a potential boyfriend (who comes bearing fresh-baked cinnamon buns), that she is afraid to lose.

And then, with her first shot at being published in two centuries hanging in the balance, she is framed for -- of all things -- plagiarism. Possibly murder, too, if the body can be found.

Jane Bites Back is not an action-packed novel, but it is light, airy and fun. Ford very nearly pokes fun at himself, Jane Austen fanaticism and the modern vampire genre with this yarn, but it's in a knowing way that shares the joke with the reader. And, while somewhat irreverent, the book is never disrespectful; indeed, you can tell Ford has boundless respect for Austen, the author, and he gives Austen, the character, plenty of charm, wit and proper English resolve. Plus, there's a dog in peril.

This is the first book in a series. I'll look forward to the sequel to see what Jane does next.

review by
Tom Knapp

30 January 2010

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