Thursday, 5 July 2012

Austen's Heroes Series - Amanda Grange

If you're friends with me on Goodreads or Facebook, I think you've noticed that I've had a bit of an Amanda Grange binge this weekend, reading four of her six Austen's Heroes books in about four days. The books, retellings of the works of Jane Austen from the hero's point of view, are a quick and extremely fun read for someone currently working on her dissertation.

Depending on which edition of the book you find, each novel is only about 200-300 pages, all in diary format. I admit, I have a bit of a soft spot for diary format books. Not only are they always a much quicker read than their normal prose brothers, but they also give the character voice more depth and power because, essentially, you're reading the character's diary. It gives you insights into what they're thinking and the kind of things that one would only write assuming no one else is going to read it. It's a very personal read and very engaging.

The other delightful thing about these books is that, quite frankly, Amanda Grange is a lovely writer. Although no Jane Austen (but who is?), she writes these books as if you were sitting in the front room, doing your needlework and watching the proceedings. She slips into the Regency Period like she has experience in it (and for all we know, Grange might have a time machine). The books are meticulously researched and very well thought out. They are no disappointment to any Jane Austen fan.

My favorite part of the books, however, is that she doesn't limit herself to what is in the Austen original. Austen was writing from the woman's point of view and includes what's important for us to know about her. Well, Grange is writing about the men so she includes what's important for us to know about them. Her Persuasion rewrite, Captain Wentworth's Diary, begins eight years before the actual novel, exploring what happened in Anne and Fredrick's initial flirtation. The Northanger Abbey sister book, Henry Tilney's Diary, begins with his mother's death when he was sixteen, a scene that will become important later. Not only that, but it continues past the point of the original book, showing what hardships Catherine and Henry have to go through in order to get his father to accept them. It even explores just why his brother is the way he is.

And that's what's so great about these books. They not only retell the story with a different main character but they also get to tie up loose ends and character motivations that weren't explored in Austen's original. I consider the backstory about Henry Tilney's older brother basically canon because it explains so much about why he behaves in the book how he does. Colonel Brandon's Diary, the Sense and Sensibility accompaniment, pretty much changed my view of the book. We get a look into what Colonel Brandon's past was in the original novel but it's all in flashback. Here, it is presented with every twist and tragic turn. I even teared up at some parts. And now I know, although I used to consider Brandon a nice but ultimately boring hero, that he deserves his happiness at the end of the book. It honestly made me like Sense and Sensibility more. Before I only liked Elinor's story but now I can appreciate Marianne's more.

These books are like candy for an Austen fan. They're very sweet and you'll go through them quickly. If you're having a bad day or just need a pick me up, they're a perfect go to. I cannot recommend them highly enough.

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