These days, centering a plot around Jane Austen as a vampire is as common as pre-packed sliced cheese, and so I approached Jane and the Damned with a jaundiced point of view. I must make a confession, however. I have been addicted to vampire novels and films about these bloodsuckers since my early 20’s, starting with Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Ann Rice’s Vampire Lestat series; Gary Oldman as the ancient bloodsucker; the cheeky tv series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer; and more recently True Blood and to a lesser extent, Twilight.
If an author or film director asks me to enter their vampire world, all I want in return is a rollicking good ride. In Jane and the Damned, author Janet Mullany does just that. Jane Austen, budding young writer, is turned into a vampire on a whim by William, a mature vampire and her dance partner at a local assembly ball. She begins to feel strange immediately.
Jane shares her awful knowledge with her father, who, while horrified at the news of his daughter having been bitten by one of the Damned, keeps a calm head. He trundles his family (wife Cassandra and daughter Cassandra and Jane) off to Bath so that Jane can take “the cure.” This treatment of taking the Bath waters is not guaranteed, for it might well kill Jane (and has killed many human seeking to rid themselves of the Vampiric poison inside them), but it is the only solution. They must rush against time before Jane’s human side disappears forever, for the longer they wait, the less successful and more painful and deadly the cure.
Rev Austen and Jane decide to keep Jane’s “condition” a secret from her mother and sister, saying only that Jane’s uncertain health requires that the family must remove to Bath immediately. As bad luck would have it, just as they settle into that Georgian city, the French invade England, and their lives are turned topsy-turvy.
Jane’s new life is conflicted on two fronts. First, she does not want to turn into a vampire. Second, she longs to taste human blood. And so her vampire adventure begins.
Going against vampire etiquette, Jane’s maker, William, has abandoned her to her fate. In Ms. Mullany’s vampire empire, the bear leader (or Creator) must guide an initiate into the intrecacies of becoming a vampire. The first feeding is problematic, since a full-blooded human takes a while to turn into one of the walking dead. A new vampire has not enough knowledge to wade through the many intricacies of vampire life without making a number of blunders. Enter Luke, who decides to act as Jane’s bear leader.
Handsome, witty, and wise in the way of Henry Tilney, Luke oversees Jane’s transformation with a hands-off approach, for he is ever aware that William has first claim on Jane and could change his mind at any time.
I have described the plot in more detail than is usual for one of my reviews, for this book is so filled with plots, sub-plots, and details that the story never peters out. Jane and the Damned feels rich, not thin, and Janet Mullany skillfully keeps juggling all the story threads she has tossed into play for a lively read. While I’ve disliked previous Jane Austen monster books, this one kept my interest for the following reasons:
1.) A thoroughly plotted back story. Mullany’s vampire empire and its mythology are well thought out. In the world Janet Mullaney has constructed, the monsters’ presence in Regency England, their ethics and mores, and their desire to rid Britain of the French make perfect sense.
2.) Internal conflict. Throughout the plot our heroine constantly struggles between her human self and vampire self, and this internal war adds to the external tension of a plot that is filled with action, romance, and historical detail. Jane must make a gutwrenching decision: to embrace her vampire life and leave her earthly family or to reclaim her human soul at the risk of death (and the chance for eternal life and happiness with the man she loves.)
3.) Desire and sensuality. In her new life, Jane yearns to be human, yet her desire for human blood overpowers her common sense, and as the novel progresses, she can no longer resist the charms of her hero. Sensuality begins to invade Jane’s life, whose awakening from sheltered spinsterhood to mature woman kept sparking my interest. (BTW, Ms. Mullany does not confuse sensuality with x-rated descriptions of the sexual act, for which I am grateful.)
4.) Boredom and ennui. Eternal life is not all that it’s cracked up to be. After a few centuries as one of the undead, a vampire is hard pressed to find anything new to do or interesting to experience. Janet Mullany has not neglected this important aspect of vampiric existence.
5.) Epic battle. In this instance, the army of the Damned has decided to defeat the French, who have invaded England (a real threat in those days) and who are bivoacked in Bath. Historical details of life in a war zone in the late 18th century are spot on, and author Mullany does not flinch from showing the seedier side of war: death, starvation, and occupation.
In short, Janet Mullany (right) addresses almost every fault I have found with other recent vampire novels set in the Regency era. Her vampire empire is so well crafted that she did not need to ride Jane Austen’s magical publicity coattails to make the story more palatable or salable. And yet, the thought of Jane Austen as an action heroine who comes into her own as she fights the French and surrenders to her own sensual longings is irresistible.
Add to the mix Ms. Mullany’s extensive knowledge about the Regency era and Jane Austen’s life (I love her depiction of Mrs. Austen), and you have a thoroughly enjoyable read. Do I recommend Jane and the Damned to everyone? No. But if you are a vampire junkie like me, you will be quite happy with your purchase.