March 14, 2018 by readingoutside
There was a time, c. 2012, when I was so saturated with Jane Austen movies and spin-offs and parodies that I was swore off the whole lot. I OD’d on Jane. But now it’s been six years and the hoopla has died off, and, well…this book was well-reviewed and looked interesting. So here we are.
Rachel Katzman lives sometime in the future, after a large population loss called the Die-Off. She is part of a team involved in new, experimental time-travel. People are just as obsessed with Jane Austen in the future as they are now – maybe more so. The woman funding the project is a diehard Janeite who wants Rachel and her colleague to retrieve the lost manuscript of The Watsons, which was just discovered to have been completed. Rachel and her time-travel partner Liam undergo extensive training so they can integrate into Regency England. Arriving in 1815, their mission is to infiltrate Jane’s family, win her confidence, and be invited to her home so they can steal the manuscript.
This is the kind of book you can curl up with on a snow day off work, which is exactly how I read it. I enjoyed the fact that it didn’t jerk my emotions around too much, as time-travel books tend to do. I did wonder, however, about the necessity of their elaborate mission. In the story, they pose as brother and sister, use a ton of fake money to pretend to be wealthy Jamaicans, get a house and servants, forge a letter of introduction, and spend months gaining the Austens’ trust. Couldn’t they have just gone back in time, snuck into Jane’s house, and stolen the manuscript? There is also a point later on in the story where they are threatened with being found out via a letter, which they then do nothing to prevent, even though they know it’s going to happen. If it were me I would have, I don’t know, intercepted the letter somehow and burned it? Or clubbed the mailman? I guess that wouldn’t be much of a story. (Or would it?)
I wasn’t sure how I felt about the main characters. Rachel isn’t a bad heroine, but I didn’t feel like I could relate strongly to her. Her defining characteristics are: she’s a doctor, she loves sex, and she doesn’t like emotional attachments. Liam is even more inscrutable. We get some back story about how he feels like he’s not good enough, or is looked down on for being poor, or something. (The politics of the future British class system are never fully explained). However, as the story went on, I did warm to him more. In the end, I was better able to see how the author was setting him up to be an Austen hero, which allowed his whole character arc to make much more sense.
Where the story really shone, in my opinion, was the author’s depiction of the Austens. Jane is as delightful as any of her heroines, witty and kind-hearted in equal measure. You actually start wishing you could time-travel just to be her friend. Think of the conversations! Jane’s brother Henry is also a pivotal figure in the story, as he is the entry for them into Jane’s world. Naturally, he falls hard for Rachel. Henry is very likeable, outgoing, and flirtatious, and serves as an excellent foil to Liam’s reserved mysteriousness.
This is straight-up time-travel fantasy. Love triangles! Duel challenges! Secret engagements! Pelisses! It’s purely the stuff imagination, and if you read it as such, it will be fun.