Book: “Dangerous Alliance: An Austentacious Romance” by Jennieke Cohen
Publishing Info: HarperTeen, December 2019
Where Did I Get this Book: Edelweiss+
Book Description: Lady Victoria Aston has everything she could want: an older sister happily wed, the future of her family estate secure, and ample opportunity to while her time away in the fields around her home.
But now Vicky must marry—or find herself and her family destitute. Armed only with the wisdom she has gained from her beloved novels by Jane Austen, she enters society’s treacherous season.
Sadly, Miss Austen has little to say about Vicky’s exact circumstances: whether the roguish Mr. Carmichael is indeed a scoundrel, if her former best friend, Tom Sherborne, is out for her dowry or for her heart, or even how to fend off the attentions of the foppish Mr. Silby, he of the unfortunate fashion sensibility.
Most unfortunately of all, Vicky’s books are silent on the topic of the mysterious accidents cropping up around her…ones that could prevent her from surviving until her wedding day.
Review: “…An Austentacious Romance.” Need I say more? I’ve been debating doing a re-read of all of Jane Austen’s novels for the blog, so as a middle ground in the mean time, this was an obvious book to request. I often don’t enjoy straight re-tellings of Austen’s stories (often they are made into contemporary romances, and I just don’t care for those myself), but this one seemed to have struck on something new: a historical piece that both pulls from the themes found in Austen’s books and straight up references those books as reading material that the heroine herself is fond of. Part of this equation work, however, on the whole, this was less than I had wanted it to be.
Lady Victoria Aston has always tried to model her life around her favorite heroines, those found in Jane Austen’s works. So, when difficulties suddenly strike her family and she finds herself suddenly needing to marry well to secure their futures, she looks to these wise and witty ladies once again for guidance. But be it rogues who are much more dangerous than those found in the pages of a book or a childhood friend who has secrets of his own, Lady Vicky quickly finds that life is much more complicated than she had thought. And it’s not only the typical challenges of the marriage market that plague her, but somehow dangerous accidents seem to be cropping up everywhere as well. Is it all connected and, more importantly, what would Jane Austen do in this situation?
Obviously, for me, this is a fantastic premise for a book. Austen re-tellings are found all over the place, some successful, others…less so. But what a fun idea, to pull from common aspects found within Austen’s novels all while referencing those very books in the story itself with a main character whose story takes place in our own world and the time of Austen’s publications. It’s a fun idea, but unfortunately, it ends up being a bit too much.
The elements of the story that are not direct references to Austen’s work do end up coming across better. We have characters who definitely fall into familiar categories from Austen’s works: the rogues, the fools, the loving sisters. There are also familiar plot points, especially with regards to the romantic confusions and the family relationships. For herself, Vicky is a capable heroine. And, given the necessity of this book being read by modern readers, she’s much more proactive and involved in the action of the plot than some of Austen’s own leading ladies. If this does lend a bit of a anachronistic feeling to the story, it’s at least a familiar flaw for books in the historical romance genre.
That said, while some of the humor and romance do line up well with Austen’s own books, these lighter topics sit awkwardly next to some much darker themes. This is where the first of my complaints really came to play. I’m not saying that books in this genre can’t touch on darker themes, but handling them is a delicate thing. The book is tripping along happily and then BANG! A super dark scene is thrown at the reader. It was jarring and unexpected in a bad way. For a book that has the words “Austentacious romance” in the title, there are some expectations laid down from the start. And while many of those were fulfilled, some of these darker bits did not lay comfortably with the rest. And after the second such instance, I was thrown out of the book enough to continue reading only warily, which resulted in my inability to fully immerse myself again in the fluffy fun of it all.
My second problem came with the Jane Austen references themselves, bizarrely enough. I’m not quite sure if ultimately I was just less enthralled with this concept as a whole once I actually started reading it, or whether this book just over-played its hand. There were simply too many of them! Almost every situation had Vicky comparing herself to one or another of Austen’s heroines.
And many of these references weren’t to well-known aspects of Austen’s works. This part, to some extent, I did enjoy as it proved that the author wasn’t just cherry picking the popular, well-known, and commonly referenced bits of Austen’s work. No, readers actually need to be familiar with many of Austen’s lesser read books, specifically “Mansfield Park” which received a lot of attention here and whose heroine, Fanny Price, often falls last on many people’s lists of favorites. But, all of that said, this does leave the book in the awkward position of only being truly appreciated by hard and fast Austen lovers, the very people who are likely to be the most critical of other books, such as this one, that are trying to emulate those beloved titles.
All told, however, there were just too many of these references for my taste. There were several moments where the comparisons did nothing to further enlighten the scene or character being contrasted in this book and only served to break up the action and distract the reader. I can’t say for certain that it would have been better without the references at all, but thinking back on it, I’m not sure it would be any worse for losing them either.
Overall, this was kind of a disappointing book for me. Don’t get me wrong, I think for the most part it delivers on what it promises. But I think the story does throw in some darker scenes that don’t mesh well with the light-hearted nature of the rest of the book and the Austen references ended up being more a distraction than anything. Reader who enjoy historical romance will still likely enjoy this book. But know that you’ll need to be familiar with more than just “Pride and Prejudice” and “Emma” to fully appreciate this story!
Rating 7: A neat little book that didn’t feel quite settled with itself: tonal inconsistency and an imbalance between original work and Austen references made up most of my complaints.
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