Wednesday, May 19, 2021

My Plain Jane (The Lady Janies #2) - Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton & Jodi Meadows

My Plain Jane is the second book in the My Lady Janies series.  It technically follows My Lady Jane (#1) but the stories aren't related and can be read as a stand alone.

Summary: Jane has endured years of hardship and misery, and is ready to embark on a new life as a governess at Thornfield Hall.  She's rather poor.  She's rather plain.  Also, she has terrible taste in men.

Charlotte is an aspiring novelist.  (Yes, she's that Charlotte.)  And she's determined to capture her friend Jane's story even if it means worming her way into the most epic ghost hunt this side of Wuthering Heights.  

Alexander is an agent of the Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits.  He's about to discover something very disturbing going on at a little place called Thornfield...

Reader, there will be murder.  Mayhem.  Conspiracy.  And, of course, romance.  Prepare for an adventure of Gothic proportions, in which all is not as it seems, and a certain gentleman, Mr. Rochester, is hiding more than skeletons in his closet.

(Summary from book flap - Image from amazon.com)

My Review:  My Plain Jane is a loosely-based retelling of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, artfully woven by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi MeadowsThe trio of authors begin by apologizing to England for what they are about to do with English Literature and then instructing the reader to throw out pretty much everything they know about the story.  However, I don't think it's necessary to go quite that far.  As in the classic novel,  My Plain Jane's heroine (one of them, anyway) is orphaned and living with her despicable Aunt Reed before being cast out and hauled off to Lowood school, where she manages to survive, rather miserably, for several years. Later, she becomes a teacher at Lowood and then a governess at Thornfield, where she meets the old stalwarts -- Rochester, Mrs. Fairfax, Grace Poole and The Big Secret (*wink wink*), etc.  So, you see, much of the plot remains intact.  

It's just...well...there are also several major additions.

As with other books in this series, the authors tweaked the story anytime they felt like it.  Where the classic version of Jane Eyre has only one narrator, My Plain Jane has three, dramatically altering the original plot with the additional storylines. The very first chapter is seen, not from Jane's perspective, but that of her good friend Charlotte -- yes, the very same -- a parson's daughter who also resides at Lowood and spends most of her time scribbling away in her notebook.  This brings me to the book's biggest departure from the original storyline.  In My Plain Jane, Lowood School and, indeed, all of England is absolutely teeming with paranormal activity?   Enter the third perspective -- Alexander Blackwood from the Royal Society for the Relocations of Wayward Spirits ('The Society,' for short) tasked with capturing any of England's dearly departed who aim to misbehave.  Jane has a special ability which make her highly valuable to the Society.  When Alexander makes Jane an offer that will give her a better life, she refuses.  Repeatedly.  Charlotte steps in to try to persuade her and the three narrators become entangled in a surprising adventure. 

One of my favorite aspects of My Plain Jane had nothing whatsoever to do with Jane and everything to do with Charlotte.  When Alexander Blackwood arrives at Lowood, and Jane rejects his offer, Charlotte can't understand what has gotten into her friend.  Only the more time she spends with Alexander, the more Charlotte realizes that she wants the life he offers.  If I'm being truly honest, I cared far more about the outcome of Charlotte's story than I did about Jane's.  Those who know a little bit about the original Jane Eyre author, Charlotte Bronte, will appreciate how skillfully the authors' blended the real Charlotte's history into the character's backstory.

The authors' writing is quippy and clever with deliciously deadpan humor and uses some of Jane Eyre's own prose in unexpected ways.  As with their previous novel, they seemed to delight in paying homage to well-known movies, expressions, and literature with subtle references or blatantly swiped lines.  Personally, I noticed nods to Ghost Busters (How could they not?), Oliver TwistThe Princess BrideLord of the RingsThe Sixth Sense, possibly even The Last of the Mohicans (I will find you!), and I am sure I missed others.

Believe it or not, until I read this book, it didn't occur to me that Jane Eyre's leading man was kind of a tool.  And yet, in the opening pages of My Plain Jane, the authors call out Rochester's moodiness, controlling behavior, abuse of power, and his tendency to gaslight poor Jane.  Examined through a modern lens, the original Mr. Rochester is pretty darn awful and an absurd candidate for "shipping" of any kind.  Readers who continue to cling to 'Ye Olde Ship Rochester' might have to adjust their sails a bit. Don't worry, I think you'll (eventually) be content with the destination.

I wish I could say that I loved My Plain Jane as much as I loved My Lady Jane, but I didn't.  It was entertaining, to be sure, and worth a read, but it didn't make me laugh out loud as much their previous novel.  I loved the addition of Charlotte's character and how through all the craziness, the authors still managed to create an origin story for the original novel.  For those who may be concerned, HEAs (Happily Ever Afters) abound, though not always in the way you might expect.

My Rating:  4.25 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Perhaps 2-3 instances of profanity.  The slightest innuendo in a song.  One briefly shirtless guy, non-descript.  Some violence.

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