If you're a follower of Modern Mrs. Darcy (I'm sure by now you can tell that I am an avid fan of Anne Bogel), then you may have glimpsed The Jane Austen Project on her summer reading guide for this year. I've said this before -- and I think it's important to be honest -- I am not a true Austenite. I've only read Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility and started to read Emma but found Emma herself to be, well...annoying. (I know, I know, she deserves a second chance.) I say this because I've had a couple readers reach out to ask if you needed to be a true fan of Jane Austen in order to enjoy this novel and the answer is certainly not. While there were references to all of Austen's works -- some that I didn't understand for lack of reading -- I felt that my reading experience was just as pleasant and that I understood the story perfectly.
The adventure takes place in 1815, shortly before the death of Jane Austen from a mysterious and drawn-out illness. Rachel and Liam were selected for a mission -- to travel back in time, infiltrate the Austen's social circle, and return to the future with a missing Austen manuscript. Rachel and Liam pose as wealthy siblings, recently arrived from the West Indies. Both Rachel and Liam are Austenites, and while they are intent on completing their mission, life in the Regency era begins to grow on them. They struggle to navigate their genuine affection for their new friends and their questions about the cost of changing the past, and by proxy, the post-apocalyptic world to which they will return.
What I will say is that this novel started out a little slow for my taste. It wasn't until about eighty pages in that I started to feel the desire to read uninterrupted, as the first bit was really the setting up of the novel and the plot itself didn't get going until after that. I saw many readers who were uncomfortable with the level of sexuality in this book, but I wasn't bothered by it at all. In fact, I thought that the contrast between the strict prudence of the Regency era and our own social rules was interesting; it brought to light some of the feminist issues that Jane and her contemporaries dealt with in a world where men controlled every aspect of women's lives. I was interested in the character relationships as they changed throughout the book and had one or two moments where I felt my heart swell or shrink on behalf of a character. The time travel element was captivating as well -- it brought about big questions (the type that make your brain hurt) and I loved thinking about the implications of changing history, for better and for worse. This was a story that had me rooting for so many of its characters, and I have to admit that I wish there was a sequel in the works, as I would happily re-immerse myself for another adventure into the past.
Bottom-Line Rating: 4/5
Title: The Jane Austen Project
Author: Kathleen A. Flynn
Publisher: Harper Perennial, 2017
Price: $10 on Amazon
Source: Public Library