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Merits and Mercenaries: (The Bath Novels of Lady A~, Book 1) Kindle Edition
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The book is beautifully written by an author who must have made a deep study of Jane Austen's life and work. She (I hope it doesn't turn out to have been written by a man!) has produced an entirely convincing set of fully rounded characters whose words and actions are unerringly suited to their natures and to the period of Jane Austen. Heroes and villains abound and one falls in love with them or wishes them ill as each page unfolds. A thoughtful addition to the book is a 'Gallery' near the beginning with silhouette illustrations and brief descriptions of the main characters. Other books would do well to follow this example to help you keep track of the plot. As it happens I found that for once it was hardly necessary. The protagonists are so carefully drawn as the narrative proceeds that one's interest never flags and there is no need to rely on the Gallery. You soon get to know your characters very well indeed.
To keep you on the alert there is plenty of mystery too. At one point, after many twists and turns, it seems that things are coming together to reach a happy conclusion. But, hang on! There are still about 50 pages to go. Whatever is going to happen next? You can't put the book down!
The spirit of Jane Austen shines out on every page. Occasionally it seems that even some of her failings have been overcome. In Mansfield Park, for example, does not the last chapter seem just a bit of an anticlimax? After becoming so engrossed in a narrative that has the ring of truth about it, the reader is brought down to earth in being asked to fix his own date for the happy outcome - ah well, so it is just a story after all.
No such feelings come to mind here. The story and its ending are wholly satisfying and if ever there was a 5-star book, this is it! And, amazingly, we are promised six more volumes of the Bath novels. Let us hope we do not have too long to wait.
Although Merits and Mercenaries springs from the irresistible conceit that it is the first of the 7 ‘missing’ Jane Austen novels, it is very important to say that this is not a pastiche of Jane Austen; nor is it a prequel or a sequel or a reverential homage. It is a full-bodied original creation that will, I’m sure, and especially when all 7 novels can sit side by side on the bookshelf, make a major contribution to the literary canon. It has a voice all of its own. It is, indeed, 'novel' in every way.
It is also worth noting that the design of the book is quite superb and far above the norm of any trade paperback. The very beautiful cover, the Map of Meritocrats and Mercenaries, and the gorgeously detailed silhouettes of all the main characters in the book’s introduction contribute to the true pleasure gained from entering the wonderfully mesmerizing world of Lady A……
All of this is further enlivened by the clever and absorbing preamble and scene-setting and the very helpful ‘gallery’ of characters. All in all, a marvellous achievement and a splendid fireside companion for the winter months.
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