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Review of Midnight in Austenland by Shannon Hale

I was told that Midnight in Austenland was much better thanAustenland and I have to agree. The first book in the series was fun, but I didn't really like Jane and I didn't know much at all about Henry Jenkins/Mr. Nobley, so it was hard to care about their happily ever after. That is not the case with this book.

Charlotte Kinder was cheated on by her shithead ex, James, who took her money and slept with some bimbo named Justice--seriously, JUSTICE?! Who names their kid JUSTICE? I would rather be Apple or Suri than Justice. Anyway, feeling down about her real life, she decides to go on a vacation to Austenland, a British estate that is made into a Regency Era home, where women come to be romanced by Mr. Darcies for two weeks. Charlotte is given a whole new persona (Mrs. Charlotte Cordial, a widower visiting her brother Mr. Edmund Grey) and a man to woo her (Mr. Mallery--not a spoiler). While Austenland was very obviously Pride and Prejudice (even to someone who has never read a single Austen novel), this book is very much Northanger Abbey complete with an actual whodunit--Charlotte finds an actual dead body while playing a game very similar to one I played at a classmate's halloween party in 1994 (I was 7 going on 8 at the time--not in my 30's like Charlotte).

It was fairly obvious early on just who Charlotte was going to end up with, although from my experience reading Austenland, I wasn't going to trust anyone at Pembrook Park--no one is ever who they appear to be. In the end, I was right about the relationship, not to mention pleased with how the romance played out (I still have issues with the non-development of the Jane/Henry Jenkins relationship, so I was very happy to see a real build up between Charlotte and her suitor).

That said, I did have some problems with this book and it is completely the fault of Shannon Hale's world building. In creating Pembrook Park, she also created a type of prostitution house--even if no one is actually having sex. The ick factor of having women pay exorbitant amounts of money to be wooed by gorgeous men, who are being paid to be there, never really goes away. Charlotte even mentions the gigolo factor at one point. The other problem I had comes from having read Austenland. Because of the Martin twist in the end of that book, I found it very hard to trust anything the characters had to say. I was always suspicious of Eddie and even Lydia. The only one I never doubted was Miss Charming and that was only because of her presence in the first book. Not being able to trust the characters in a novel are being truthful is a big problem for me; it is the main reason that I do not like first person novels (you can never quite tell when the narrator is honestly representing events the way you can with the omniscient 3rd person narrator).

All in all, I liked Midnight in Austenland, and I would recommend it to anyone.

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