Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford
I can’t remember where exactly I picked up Jane Bites Back (as a concept, not a book)—I think I’m going to pin this one on Publishers Weekly. Something about the sheer silliness of Jane Austen and vampires delighted me. Although, it must be noted, this does not always delight me. The very idea of Mr. Darcy, Vampyre, makes my skin crawl. But there was something about the review and the synopsis that led me to believe Ford sided on my side when it came to Austen fanfiction, especially since he was writing it himself. After the abject failure of Crane Spreads Wings, I picked this up to wash the taste out.
Jane Bites Back follows Jane Fairfax, the middle-aged and British owner of a bookstore in upstate New York. Oh, and she’s also Jane Austen, who was turned into a vampire by Lord Byron shortly before her “death”. Jane has been trying to sell her novel, Constance, for two hundred years, but just as she decides to put it to rest, an editor finally bites. As Jane navigates the process of publishing her “first” novel, she must also deal with her growing attachment to the kind Walter and the reappearance of Lord Byron in her life. Things were much easier back when she was human…
As you can probably gather for yourself, this is an incredibly ridiculous premise. If this was done seriously, I don’t think I would have been able to stomach it, quite frankly. But Michael Thomas Ford fully embraces the absurdity and we end up with a delightfully over-the-top novel that still manages to have a heart. The tone is set immediately out the gate with Jane and her assistant/best friend/protege (there’s no feminine for “bros for life”, okay?) hosting an event for a particularly odious Austen spinoff. When the author turns out to be a selfish, hypocritical, and, worst of all, rude, Jane makes short work of her. To be fair, the over-the-top nature of the novel can sometimes stray into odd, cliched territory—when Jane is a guest on Comfort and Joy, a send-up of The View, for instance, but for the most part, it works.
It works because it avoids trying to turn Jane into that female character—the “Ladies! She’s just like you based on these details but no character development! Identity with her!” one. She’s a middle-aged British woman who loves books but is, sometimes irrationally, frustrated by Austenmania. While she’s not a prude about sex, she vastly prefers an emotional connection. She can be a bit of a coward. (At one point, Lucy calls her out for not telling Walter about her nature in language the same way my friends and I call each other out.) And she truly misses her family, especially her beloved sister Cassandra. She didn’t choose to be a vampire, but she’s managing the best she can. I was also delighted to find that her relationship with Lucy is a warm and a loving friendship. Even when they indulge in a makeover, Lucy still makes a crack about it. Ford’s vampires don’t have any superpowers and don’t have any particular insight into the afterlife, so they’re ultimately just people. Bloodsucking, immortal people, but people.
Jane Bites Back is also funny, which goes along with the absurdity of it all. Just watching Jane and Lucy react to all the insanity that breaks out around them is great fun. I was giggling and occasionally shocked by a twist throughout the entire novel. While Byron initially starts off as a threatening figure (I was a little concerned by his initial behavior to Jane, which felt much more stalker-esque than I was comfortable with), he soon becomes a slightly more awkward Captain Jack Harkness, which I am always down for. Speaking of the menfolk, Walter, Jane’s beau, is mildly boring, but that’s recognized by the other characters and isn’t too much of a detriment. After all, it’s mostly about vampires, publishing, and Jane and Lucy being awesome. There is a sequel, Jane Goes Batty, and this series is apparently a trilogy! Delightful.
Oh, and if you’re a Brontë fan, you might not want to pick this up. You will never get a certain image out of your head.
Bottom line: A very silly Austen revenge fantasy that sends up vampires and Austenmania at the same time. A delightful trifle that’s worth a read. Unless you’re a Brontë fan…
I rented this book from the public library.