If you’ve ever read this blog before you know I really love two things: books and Jane Austen. So when I found out Charlie Lovett, author of The Bookman’s Tale wrote an Austen fan-fiction novel (my label) I was super excited! I requested a copy from the publisher and received no compensation for my opinion.
Many authors have tried to write novels featuring Jane Austen at the time she wrote her stories and try to connect her novels to her life. However, few have done it as well as Lovett has in First Impressions. The author worked around many of the issues other authors face (mirroring Austen’s language and getting the time period and personality of Austen and her characters correct) by immediately jumping into Jane Austen’s life. The book opens in the late 1700s with Austen on a walk through the countryside (hello Lizzie Bennet) and as the reader gets to an interesting point Lovett jumps to modern-day London. This could be confusing, but Lovett does it effortlessly.
In addition to the two well written timelines of this story, Lovett once again showcases his love and adoration of books. Through Jane and Reverend Mansfield’s conversations in the late 1700s and Sophie and Uncle Bertram’s conversations (remembered and actual), Lovett’s appreciation of books shines through and made me love the characters that much more, whether they were reading, writing or collecting books. I also loved that he included an aspect of books a lot of readers don’t think too much about: printing.
In his last work, The Bookman Tales, he showcased his extensive knowledge of book binding and although there was less focus on printing in this book, it was still a valuable addition and neat to learn about. It’s these types of things that have made these two books so memorable.
The final thing I really enjoyed about the book and thought was well done, was how seamlessly the two stories wove together. If something is said in the 1700s like,
“‘It is, I think,’ said Mr. Mansfield, ‘the sign of a well-crafted novel when the minor characters are as fully realized as the hero and heroine.'”
Actions in the modern-day story mirrored this. It wasn’t long after this, that the protagonist’s sister is fully explored and we get a better picture of who both characters are. Add in that I felt Sophie was a kick-ass modern Austen heroine and this book was a win-win for me.
Recommendation: I definitely recommend it! I didn’t even discuss the mystery/thriller aspect and needless to say Lovett kept me on my toes the entire book. I second guessed myself up until the final reveal when usually I’m convinced and make up my mind pretty early in mysteries.
Opening Line: “Fond as she was of solitary walks, Jane had been wandering rather longer than she had intended, her mind occupied not so much with the story she had lately been reading as with one she hoped soon to be writing.”
Closing Line: “Yours Most Affectionately, Sophie.” (Whited out.