Life in Austen’s England…sort of

Midnight in AustenlandI first got interested in Austenland by Shannon Hale because I’ve enjoyed her fantasy novels so much.  The movie’s release helped push me to finally pick up the book (though I still haven’t watched the movie…)  One of my goals this year is to read sequels, so I recently read Midnight in Austenland too.  Consider this a two-fer review!

Both books are set in Pembrook Park, which promises a true Austen experience to devoted fans.  Women (it’s all women) come to the manor house for two weeks, where they dress up in period clothing, assume a character and interact with actors hired to entertain–and romance (in an Austen-appropriate way, of course).

Austenland centers on Jane, perennially unlucky in love and slightly too obsessed with the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice.  She sees the trip to Pembrook Park as a kind of immersion therapy to finally kick the habit and move on.  Once she arrives, though, she begins to wonder where the line between pretend-romance and real-romance actually lies (hint: not where she thinks it does!)

Midnight in Austenland takes a Northanger Abbey spin, bringing in a murder mystery to liven (deaden?) things up.  The heroine this time around is Charlotte, trying to cope with her divorce (from her lying, cheating, remarried-to-his-mistress husband).  She finds comfort in Austen’s novels, and hopes that a bit of pretend will help ready her for living real life again.  But then Charlotte thinks she finds a real dead body–and the question becomes whether there could be a real murder behind a pretend-mystery.  And there’s some romance too, of course!

I enjoyed both of these books quite a bit, but surprisingly enough I have to say I preferred the sequel!  Of course, Northanger Abbey is my favorite Austen novel…

The first book focuses almost exclusively on Jane’s romances, which is entertaining but still a somewhat thin thread.  There are also some themes around acting and reality.  One of the biggest arcs is about letting go of unhealthy fantasies but the ending, well, up-ended that message completely, and left that all rather confusing.  Leaving us pretty much with a light romance.  Still, a fun if somewhat slight book.

And then we get to Midnight in Austenland.  And there’s murder, and ghost stories, and a seriously brooding hero and a rather witty hero, and two truly unpleasant anti-heroes, and Charlotte’s struggle to find her confidence–which she does.  Spectacularly, I might add.  The romance was slightly out-of-left-field, but was sweet enough when it came that I’ll take it.

A few characters return from the first book, gaining more depth and becoming more sympathetic in the process.  Pembrook Park itself got much more interesting too.  Jane’s experience convinced me that I would be unutterably bored in Austen’s England (probably true).  Guests during Jane’s visit primarily sit around, drink tea, and do needlepoint.  Charlotte gets to play parlor games and go riding and take an excursion to a ruined castle.  So much more fun!

I think you could probably pick up the sequel before the first one without too much trouble, though reading them in order will explain a few points in the second book.  They’re really both worth reading anyway.  I can’t figure out from Hale’s website if she’s planning a third book, but I hope so–maybe a send-up of Persuasion, with two former lovers meeting at Pembrook Park?  I’d read it!

Author’s Site:

Other reviews:
Diary of an Eccentric
The Page Sage
Anyone else?

Buy them here: Austenland and Midnight in Austenland

About cherylmahoney

I'm a book review blogger and Fantasy writer. I have published three novels, The Wanderers; The Storyteller and Her Sisters; and The People the Fairies Forget. All can be found on Amazon as an ebook and paperback. In my day job, I'm the Marketing Specialist for Yolo Hospice. Find me on Twitter (@MarvelousTales) and GoodReads (MarvelousTales).
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9 Responses to Life in Austen’s England…sort of

  1. I had some of the same thoughts about the first book, and have been debating whether to pick up the second one. Since you think it’s better, perhaps I’ll give it a try!

  2. Sounds like a great book! I’ve considered picking it up for some time (I’m a huge fan of Shannon Hale) but just hadn’t actually looked into it very much previously. What age range would you recommend it to? Adult? Great review! 🙂

  3. I did not realize Midnight in Austenland is based on Northanger Abbey. I will have to read Northanger after I finish Emma. I thought they were both nice, quick reads!

  4. dianem57 says:

    The second book sounds more interesting than the first, but if the first introduces characters who reappear in the second one, probably best to read them both, just to have familiarity with them when reading the second book. You called the first book a “thin read.” Does that mean it’s a fast read? Would you recommend reading these back-to-back?

  5. They were both good, but the sequel was my favorite, too. Thanks for linking to my review!

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