Tuesday 7 August 2018

#CBR10 Book 56: "My Plain Jane" by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows

Page count: 464 pages
Rating: 4 stars

This review will contain spoilers for Jane Eyre, but that book is more than 170 years old, and therefore, if you don't know the gist of the plot already, that's really not my fault.

In this slightly alternate universe, King George III of England was not actually mad, he just saw ghosts and could talk to them (making others believe he wasn't quite right in the head). He founded a society "for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits", led by none other than the Duke of Wellington himself. By the time of William IV, the Society was no longer receiving proper patronage from the king any longer, and they're down to only a few trusted ghost hunters. Alexander Blackwood is Wellington's trusty favourite, and when he's not hunting down ghosts for the RWS, he's trying to avenge his dead father.

While trying to relocate a ghost near Lowood School, Alexander comes into contact with two young ladies. One is the intriguing Jane Eyre, the other her friend Charlotte Brontë (who wishes to become an author, of course). Alexander discovers that Ms Eyre can see ghosts, and while the RWS in the past did not employ women, Wellington is getting desperate, and insists that Alexander recruit her into the Society post haste. Yet Jane Eyre is terrified that the Society will "relocate" her best friend and ghost companion, Helen Burns, so she wants nothing to do with Alexander. She is adamant that she wants to become a governess above all else. Charlotte cannot understand why her friend would give up a life of excitement and adventure, not to mention a very extravagant salary and tries to persuade Alexander to take her in Jane's stead (her brother Bramwell is Alexander's apprentice, after all).

Jane (and Helen) go off to Thornfield Hall (where very strange things are afoot), while Alexander and the two eldest Brontë siblings accompany him, trying to aid in recruiting Jane into the Society. While at Thornfield Hall, Alexander also begins to suspect that Mr. Rochester may in fact have something to with his father's death. While Jane is strangely smitten with her broody new employer (and he with her), and soon (despite ghostly Helen's warnings and misgivings, not to mention very much alive Charlotte's), they are engaged to be married. The dramatic scene in the church, where it is revealed that Mrs Bertha Rochester isn't dead at all, but has been locked in the attic for years, plays out rather differently here.

The final third of the novel, after the disastrous wedding, plays out rather differently than the source material. The true reason for Mr Rochester's strange behaviour and his imprisonment of his wife is revealed, Alexander eventually discovers the true culprit behind his father's murder, the Brontë siblings discover a new and benevolent relative and Jane (and Helen) look to get their own happy ending too.

This is the second book in The Lady Janies series, where Ms Hand, Ashton and Meadows irreverently play with English history and/or literature to create their own thing. I really enjoyed My Lady Jane back in 2016 and was very excited when I heard that their second book would be a Jane Eyre retelling, as I love that book. I fully understand that it is not for everyone and that from a modern perspective, there are a number of very troubling elements to the grandiose and Gothic romance between poor, plain, yet resilient Miss Jane Eyre and her much older and broody employer, Mr Edward Rochester. The age difference, his strange treatment of her, his mind games and his attempts at manipulation are not cool, but the book is, as I pointed out earlier, 171 years old and it was a different time. Besides, it's not like Charlotte Brontë doesn't make Rochester suffer for his early arrogance and attempts at bigamy. He is thoroughly punished, while unassuming, kind and oh so virtuous Jane Eyre is rewarded (after much suffering and nearly dying on the moors). She may start the book poor and without any kindly relations, but at the end of the novel, she has inherited a fortune, discovered long lost cousins and finally, in a position of power, gets to the man of her choosing, when she is suddenly his social superior.

In this book, due to the presence of ghosts (and their ability to possess people), we get a story that seems similar on the surface, but goes somewhere rather different in places. Both Charlotte Brontë and Jane Eyre get happy romantic endings, with men who are closer to them in age than was often the case in Victorian England. There is danger and intrigue and several dastardly villains along the way, but all comes right in the end. This was a fun enough book, but I think overall, I preferred the first one. I was excited to discover that there will be a third book in the series, out 2020, about Calamity Jane (who I only really know from the Deadwood TV series). With the two books in the series so far, I've been very familiar with both the historical (the Tudor era is my favourite) and literary (see my aforementioned love for the source material) background. With Calamity Jane, I'm more in the dark.

#CBR10Bingo: So shiny

Judging a book by its cover: I'm not sure if the cover model is supposed to be Jane Eyre or Charlotte Brontë (or someone completely different), but while the collar of the blouse/dress may be suitable for a Victorian lady, this girl is wearing way too much makeup (and while her brow game is excellent, it's also anachronistic). Nor do I like the bright yellow or the font used for the title. Not a great cover, guys.

Crossposted on Cannonball Read.

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