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Our Intrepid Heroine

I'm a multitasking, knitting, cooking, voraciously-reading library worker who wants to spread her bibliomania as far as possible.

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Ash and Silver: A Sanctuary Novel
Carol Berg
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Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen's Emma

Jane Fairfax - Joan Aiken This started off as extremely promising. For the first few chapters, the writing could almost (almost) have been Austen. However, I was thrown out of the story abruptly in the middle when the main character began referring to male colleagues (all of whom were above her station) by their first names. That's like Austen 101: all men who are older or socially superior are referred to as "Mister." Even one's husband, when discussing with others, is Mister so-and-so, though the wife may address him by his first name when speaking to him. The exception to this rule is family members and when women are behaving without propriety (like Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility).

I probably could have forgiven this (it's a little nitpicky, I know), but that's also about the time the story went to hell. After spending two hundred pages showing and painting the scenes, suddenly Aiken began to mess with the plot in order to cram it into her prescribed formula.

I took the biggest issue with her handling first of Mr. Dixon, and second of Mr. Churchill.

Dixon wasn't in Emma, but he was mentioned. Emma decided (based on rumors and very little evidence) that Jane Fairfax was in love with Dixon, even though he had married her best friend. Now, Aiken had pointed out Emma's worst sides, mostly being self-absorbed and overly self-assured based on very little evidence. This would have been a perfect opportunity to make Emma look completely foolish in Jane's eyes, by having her make a rash assumption regarding their relationship. Instead, Aiken slapped together a halfhearted foiled romance for the sake of creating drama (in which she stated that Jane loved Mr. Dixon, but never actually showed any real affection by either party).

Frank Churchill was one of the characters I did like in Emma, so it was a shame to see him be so useless even though he was theoretically the romantic lead in this book. I never felt like I got to know him as a character, and Jane never really seemed to care much for him. Instead, he thrusts an imprudent marriage proposal upon her on a train while she's grieving (over something?) and she accepts, also for the sake of creating drama.

Hello. Why do you need to create drama in a book that should have plenty? You have an orphan girl who is talented and kind, taken in by friends of her family, facing a sad and lonely future as a governess. And a nice, rich young man falls in love with her. To be a true Austen romance, she would study his manners and temperament, admit that he's rather a handsome man, and find herself swayed by his inherent goodness. And Churchill - though perhaps a bit vain - is all of these things, and entertaining to boot. He's a great character to fall in love with, and being forced to keep an engagement under wraps is enough stress to sustain a story. Actually, it's part of the reason I picked up this book: to see the other side of a secret engagement.

Basically, I'm disappointed. There was no love story at work, and the confusion in the middle of the story polluted the details of the work around it. Jane Fairfax showed every likelihood of being a spirited heroine, and instead, she was a bitter, disappointed young woman the author managed to make fairly unlikeable.