About This Book
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of A Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.
In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.
As a huge fan of Jane Austen, this book’s premise immediately drew me in. Like the 19th Century conspiracy theorists who claimed William Shakespeare couldn’t have written all those legendary plays, Charlie Lovett crafts an intriguing mystery novel around another legendary writer and dares to ask . . . what if Jane Austen didn’t write the most beloved romantic novel of all time? Or worse, what if she stole it?
Before I send legions of Mr. Darcy fans into a frenzy, let me just point out this is fiction. As in, not real. Our beloved Austen is safe and secure atop her pedestal. But Lovett writes with such a deft pen and keen sense of character development that you will really begin to believe the character of Richard Mansfield was real. His touching mentorship of young Jane’s writing career was very well done, and made me wish I had such a courageous champion to both admonish and encourage me in my writing!
I could very easily relate to Sophie, a young single woman hopelessly in love with books, especially old ones. I don’t know a single bibliophile who won’t appreciate her relationship with her uncle, and the atrocity committed against her uncle’s and parents’ book collections when her uncle suddenly turns up dead, which sets Sophie on the trail of the mysterious customers’ queries.
What really makes this story stand out is the research and story world. Told in a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s modern England and Jane Austen’s late-18th Century countryside, the characters really felt believable. And as I mentioned above, even I began to question the existence and influence of Richard Mansfield, and at one point stopped reading to pull up the Wikipedia app on my phone to make sure this man was a fake! I also enjoyed how seamlessly the story wove between the modern and historical worlds, as well as to flashbacks of Sophie’s childhood and how her love of books was born.
Apart from Sophie and her uncle, I felt the secondary characters were underdeveloped, especially Sophie’s two suitors. But hero character development is always tough when a story is limited to only female point-of-view characters (in this case, Sophie and Jane), so in that case, it is almost exclusively Sophie’s story to tell. But it did leave me wanting a little more at the end of the book, especially to help explain her “happily ever after” with the man she ultimately ends up with (and no, I’m not telling!).
This is a general market novel and, by such standards, is actually fairly clean. There are several references to and scenes depicting casual sex, but nothing is described graphically. And there are more than a dozen instances of explicit language, mostly at the end in the final confrontation scene.
Overall, First Impressions was a predictable but very enjoyable what-if premise in which a man may have been murdered, Jane Austen may be a plagiarist, and it’s up to a young antiquarian bookseller to solve both mysteries. A must-read for Austen fans!
Available October 16, 2014 from Viking