Midnight in Austenland
I have a confession to make. I effing loved this book. I have been a sucker for Jane Austen ever since I was a kid and the fact that the lead character is a somewhat discombobulated woman who is clever was just icing on the cake. Empathize with a woman who can reference Murder She Wrote? Beyond easy. I used to hold myself away from the genre of romance as if it was some mold that I didn’t want to get on me, but this book makes me think that maybe, just maybe, if it’s written in the right way, I could enjoy it. And let me tell you, this is absolutely written in the right way. Regency romance combined with real world problems combined with Murder She Wrote is exactly the way I needed for this to be.
Bestselling author Shannon Hale returns to Austenland, where bonnets are in vogue and gentlemen can waltz, and one player is planning something a little more sinister …
When Charlotte Kinder treats herself to a two-week vacation at Austenland, she happily leaves behind her ex-husband and his delightful new wife, her ever-grateful children, and all the rest of her real life in America. She dons a bonnet and stays at a country manor house that provides an immersive Austen experience, complete with gentleman actors who cater to the guests’ Austen fantasies.
Everyone at Pembrook Park is playing a role, but increasingly, Charlotte isn’t sure where roles end and reality begins. And as the parlor games turn a little bit menacing, she finds she needs more than a good corset to keep herself safe. Is the brooding Mr. Mallery as sinister as he seems? What is Miss Gardenside’s mysterious ailment? Was that an actual dead body in the secret attic room? And—perhaps of the most lasting importance—could the stirrings in Charlotte’s heart be a sign of real-life love?
I can’t even tell you how much I need for Austenland to be a real place I can go to. I mean, how is it possible that no one has actually done this? I can go to Harry Potter World or Dickens World (no joke), but I can’t go to Pemberley? Surely, there’s a corporation somewhere on the planet that sees the profit in that. Come on, corporations, do one thing right in your life. Give me Austenland.
The mystery element to this story is completely addictive. The combination of the fictitious mystery combined with the maybe real life mystery was superbly well wrought. I happily fell down the rabbit hole in this book and the pages flew by as a result.
And the characters, oh, the characters! The supporting characters in this story are brilliantly done. Every single one of them stands up and walks around like real Human Beings. I can’t imagine the fun Hale had while writing them. And Charlotte is just wonderful. The way she slowly sits up straight and realizes that really, she’s kind of awesome and that sometimes guys can be total douches for no apparent reason is simply delightful. I wish this transition could happen more often in real life. I wish that more women would stand tall, but we don’t exist in a society that’s designed to do that. Jane Austen’s works, however, are the perfect antidote to that and Hale does a magnificent job of weaving it in.
Here’s the thing that startled me a bit as I read: it seemed like every single reference was aimed at me. From Murder She Wrote to Clue to Terry Pratchett, every few pages my eyes would scan past something that made me smile and it only made the story that much delightful for me. This book has proven to me that it’s entirely possible to have an intelligent romance with a murder mystery featuring a woman who’s far too nice and constantly questions herself. Only for this book, it’s not just possible, Hale pulled it off expertly.
4 ink bottles and I will never again roll my eyes at a romance.