When it comes to Jane Austen, goddess of literature, social anthropologist and a personal hero of mine, I have a lot of secret confessions. Mr. Darcy is not my preferred love interest. I don’t really like Persuasion. And I love me a good fanfic. Or as Jane Austen fans prefer to call them, “retellings.” It’s a massive market, a genre unto itself, and one that brings in some hefty buying power. These Austen-inspired fics range from modern interpretations to “after the kiss” continuations of the original texts. Others imagine alternative situations, or explore the lives and motives of background characters. Jane Austen retellings are diverse and varied, and they really only have one thing in common: I will read all of them.
From Bridget Jones’ Diary (not a fan) to Death Comes To Pemberley (best read of 2012) I have read a staggering selection of these Austen-inspired novels. The below list is a small collection of my personal favorites—some stand up to the charm of the originals, while others provide light, fluffy enjoyment.
Pride & Prejudice And Zombies – Seth Grahame-Smith
I know, I know. But it had to be included. This is the novel that launched a literary revolution (of a sort) and provided me with my new favorite movie. While it’s more of a gag read, it is ultimately enjoyable, and at least worth checking out. In case you have lived under a rock for several years, this book (more or less) follows the original plot… just with the addition of zombies.
Unequal Affection – Lara S. Ormiston
In her retelling, Lara Ormiston imagines a story where Elizabeth accepts Darcy’s first proposal—not out of love, but out of stone-cold practicality. As a result, readers skip the character growth where Lizzy slowly learns to love Darcy, and instead watch Darcy, who loves Lizzy far more than she loves him, transform himself into the character we’ve grown to know and love. I’m a fan of this book because I find it incredibly sweet—much sweeter than the initial text, in fact, and the two main characters interact far more. It’s a much more intelligent approach to the Austen-inspired novel, and I highly recommend it.
Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs – Mary Jane Hathaway
Written by Mary Jane Hawthorne, this (and its companions, Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese-Grits as well as Persuasion, Captain Wentworth, and Cracklin’ Cornbread) is part of a southern Jane Austen series that reimagines our favorite characters thrown into the grips of the modern south. These books are entertaining and on the light side, and I absolutely read them for the novelty of it. They aren’t anything special, but they are technically labeled as Christian-Lit, which means that if you aren’t a fan of the Darcy-bodice-ripping novels, this is a fluffy and non-graphic romance you won’t worry about loaning to your mom.
Death Comes To Pemberley – P.D. James
If you saw the BBC special, you’ll understand why you should read this book ASAP. Murder! Intrigue! Darcy being a dick! Death Comes To Pemberley takes place several years after Lizzy and Darcy get married, and the two are happily settled at Pemberley with a family of their own. Although the book does not include the gorgeousness that is Matthew Rhys as Darcy, it does include familial tensions, and a race against the clock to discover the true murderer in the midst of Pemberley.
Prejudice and Pride – Lynn Messina
Prejudice and Pride is the modern, gender-swapped Pride & Prejudice you’ve always dreamed of. The Bethle brothers (Bennet, John, and Lyndon) are fundraisers for the Longbourn Museum in Queens, when they encounter beautiful heiresses Darcy Fitzwilliam and Charlotte Bingston. Author Lynn Messina has crafted one of the most clever modern-day plots that manages to maintain the struggles and class differences of the original text, while making it work in a modern setting. It’s a delightful read, with a random twist at the end that kind of makes you laugh, and is an incredibly successful genderbent retelling.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman – Pamela Aidan
This is a trilogy of books told from Mr. Darcy’s point of view—An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain. The first book follows the original story pretty closely, and deviates as the series go on—the second book is more murder-mystery than romance, but it’s still a good read. Mr. Darcy can verge on overly emotional in this series, but Pamela Aiden’s series definitely stands out among a sea of Darcy POV fiction.
Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries – Carrie Bebris
Okay, okay, I admit, I apparently am a sucker for Detective Darcy novels—which is exactly what this is. Carrie Bebris’ seven-book series follows Lizzy and Darcy as they make their way through the English country side solving mysteries, looking for clues, and being generally delightful. These books, while campy, are surprisingly good at staying true to the original texts. Start with the first of the series, Pride and Prescience, and consider it a P&P meets Northanger Abbey, but without the obnoxiousness of Catherine.
Jane Bites Back – Michael Thomas Ford
It’s modern day, and Jane Austen is alive—kind of. Immortalized not only by her books, Jane has also been kept alive for 200 years by the fact that she’s a vampire. Now going by the name of Jane Fairfax, she runs a small bookshop and lives in annoyance that she doesn’t get royalty checks anymore, that her books have been ruined by fan fiction, and that she cannot get a book published to save her life. Jane Bites Back is a hilarious and absurdist romp through multiple genres (with several sequels).
Austenland – Shannon Hale
Before the adorable Keri Russell movie, there was Austenland, which follows the perennially single Jane, who lives in New York, works an OK job, and has an all-consuming obsession with Mr. Darcy. When she gets the chance to go to a Jane Austen-themed retreat in England, she jumps at a shot to live out her fantasies. Austenland is equal parts adorable, romantic, and a little cringey—but all around a good read.
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