Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Jane Bites Back.
Jane Austen, vampires and bodice-rippers seem a most unlikely combination to find united in one book, but that’s exactly what Michael Ford Thomas brings together in Jane Bites Back, his sendup of the cottage industries spawned by Austen and the recent Twilight vampire saga.
Jane Austen, it turns out, is alive (or, more accurately, undead) and well in Brakeston, a quiet, sleepy college town in upstate New York. She goes by the name Jane Elizabeth Fairfax and makes her living as a bookseller. Understandably, she finds herself deeply frustrated by the cheesy books - unauthorized sequels, romance self-help, and various awful adaptations (not to mention the Jane Austen finger puppets) - that are making a fortune off her own work while she herself hasn’t seen a royalty check in nearly two centuries.
In the meanwhile, she has amassed no less than one hundred and sixteen rejection letters from publishers for her last novel, Constance. She is resigned to spending her days in Brakeston in loneliness, except for the friendship of her young assistant, Lucy (a stand-in for her beloved sister, Cassandra) and the unrequited love that Walter, a local contractor, feels for her. Jane cannot bring herself to associate with her own kind, nor can she bear to tell anyone her secret: that she is really Jane Austen, now a vampire.
But Jane’s quiet life in Brakeston is forever altered by two unexpected events: her book finds a publisher (and a hot young editor to boot) and appears to be well on its way to becoming a bestseller, and Lord Byron (now going by the name of Brian) reenters her life, hoping to rekindle a romance with her. Jane cannot forgive Byron for having turned her into a vampire against her will so many centuries ago, nor for the callous manner in which he discarded her once he had turned her, although she learns that she is as susceptible to his considerable physical charms as ever.
Now Jane must juggle her busy calendar as a rising star in the publishing business while keeping her potential suitors at bay and feeding in a ladylike fashion on undesirable humans (she is careful not to drain them completely), all the while fending off ridiculous accusations that she has plagiarized her novel from Charlotte Brönte.
The idea of imagining Austen as a vampire strikes me as a stroke of genius, and Jane Bites Back manages to be pure campy fun. There are plenty of details from Austen’s life woven into the narrative, and the idea of a showdown between Austen and Brönte is entertaining. Excerpts from Constance, a steamy bodice-ripper of the sort that Austen would have never written, make for ridiculous fun as well.
The first half of the book is considerably more enjoyable to read than the latter half, primarily because the author has a hard time sustaining the frothy, frivolous tone for over 300 pages. One suspects that this would have been a better book at half its current length.
The bigger problem is that none of the characters turn out to be particularly interesting, including Jane herself, who comes off as a cross between a mousy, aging spinster and a pale, insipid Regency heroine. As any true Austenite will tell you, the real Jane Austen would make for a formidable vampire...! The supporting characters, including Byron and Walter, also lack depth and interest. In spite of these drawbacks, the book as a whole is worth a read, especially for fans who enjoy both Austen and the vampire genre.