top of page

A Surprising Twist to a Timeless Story - an Editorial Review of "Harriet"

Book Blurb:

Emma, a privileged young heiress, decides to mentor Harriet Smith, a pretty boarding-school pupil, and to matchmake her as eligibly as she can… But how is she to guess that Harriet has a secret?

Meanwhile, the brilliant, penniless Jane Fairfax consents to a clandestine engagement with Frank Churchill – though not daring to confess, even to him, that she is being relentlessly pursued by her best friend’s husband.

Harriet sidelines Emma herself in favour of the ingenious Harriet and the fascinating Jane Fairfax. It is Emma – but an Emma with a surprisingly believable twist in its tail.

Book Buy Link:

Author Bio:

Alice McVeigh (pen name for speculative fiction: Spaulding Taylor) was born in South Korea, of American diplomatic parents, and lived in Asia until she was 13, when the family returned to Washington D.C. She then fell in love with the cello, winning the Beethoven Society of Washington cello competition, and reaching the finals of the National Music Teachers Association Young Soloists national competition. After achieving a B.Mus. with distinction at the internationally acclaimed Jacobs School of Music, she came to London to study with Jacqueline du Pré and William Pleeth. Since then she has performed with the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique all over Europe, America and Asia.

Her first two contemporary novels – While the Music Lasts and Ghost Music – were published by Orion Publishing/Hachette in the late 90s, and her first play (Beating Time) put on at the Lewisham Theatre. (The film rights to her first book were also sold, to Channel 4, but Mozart in the Jungle got there first!) As well as performing, Alice has ghosted or edited over 200 books. She has also scribbled a witty guide to the orchestral profession: All Risks Musical, cartoons by Noel Ford. Her speculative thriller, Last Star Standing, was published by Unbound Publishing under her pen name, Spaulding Taylor, on February 21st, 2021. It won a Kirkus-starred review and was runner-up in the Independent Press Awards in the Action/Adventure category. It is a finalist in CIBA’s Cygnus Scifi Award, the Wishing Shelf Book Awards (in adult fiction) and the Eric Hoffer Book Awards (in science fiction).

In June 2021, Warleigh Hall Press published the first in her series of six Jane Austenesque novels (Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel). An imagining of Lady Susan as a sixteen-year-old, Susan was a quarter-finalist in Publishers Weekly’s 2021 BookLife Prize, won First Place (historical) in the Pencraft Book Awards, won a Gold Medal (historical) in the Global Book Awards and the eLit Book Awards 2022, was honoured with an IndieBRAG medallion and was selected as one of Shelf Unbound magazine’s “100 notable Indies” of 2021. Warleigh Hall Press has just published the second (Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation), a bestseller in Amazon’s British Historical Fiction category, and recently selected as Editor’s Pick (“outstanding”) on Publishers Weekly.

Alice is married to Professor Simon McVeigh, and lives in London. They have one daughter, who is doing a Master’s in Chinese Literature at Peking University (Beijing) and a second home in Crete. Apart from fiction, Alice’s greatest enthusiasms involve playing chamber music, tennis and the family’s long-haired mini-dachshunds.

Editorial Review:

In short, I believed there to be a vacancy – not for another governess, but for someone youthful an doe-eyed, submissive and easily led, to give the young mistress of Hartfield an object. And though supremely unqualified for the post – in that I was neither submissive nor easily led – I had faith in my powers to appear so.

Alice McVeigh does it again with this rich literary Regency novel as she channels the spirit of Jane Austen into her own words! Everyone know Emma's story told straight from Miss Woodhouse's own mouth, but to be sure, Emma's point-of-view is sometimes rather skewed because of her own standing in the village of Hartfield. But here, McVeigh cleverly switches gears and tells the same well-loved story except through the eyes and words of Emma's poor protégé, Harriet Smith. And without a doubt, Harriet reveals the secrets of her heart, the twists and tangles of matchmaking as she sets her cap upon snatching a well-to-do husband under Emma's guidance. The reader gets a glimpse into Harriet's thinking through every scene played out in Austen's Emma which, to be sure, lends a very different perspective on what you think you knew about Harriet. Even the end and the discovery of Harriet's true parentage, as we all know her to be an orphan with a mysterious benefactor who afforded her the opportunity to attend the girl's school in Hartfield. The revelation will leave any Austen-lover speechless!

I did not suspect him of wanting Emma for himself – not at all – but I did suspect him of not wishing any other man to have her. The level of human interaction he enjoyed at Hartsfield, I believe, was exactly what Mr Knightley preferred. He loved his solitude, but he must have some family by – that was my reading of him, at any rate. As for Frank Churchill, I intended to keep an open mind.

With expert skill and finesse, McVeigh places herself in the esteemed company of Miss Austen and this book, along with her other Austen variations, must sit side by side with her classics on any Regency-lover's shelf. Her characters are extremely well-developed and hold their own without taking away from those created by Jane Austen; but that being said, they also reveal McVeigh's ability to recreate characters that feel fresh and the stories, while extracted from the earlier classics, allow the reader to escape again into this loved tale without feeling like it is just a repetition. This is the true mark of a great storyteller!

How did I feel about Emma? She intrigued me – I felt attached to her – I felt an interest in her fate, and grateful for her friendship . . . and yet, despite all this, I almost never dared to tell her the truth! Secretly, I saw us both as bound, even imprisoned – Emma by her father, myself by circumstances. We were also both using each other: Emma, to restore her previous freedom of movement – myself, for my only chance at escape.

Another hallmark is the flawless weaving of the historical era, a book immersed the period, and the evidence of astute research on the part of the author which comes through quite clear. McVeigh's characters and setting create the atmosphere which any Austen reader will truly love, and again, allowing the reader to revisit well-known places as if visiting for the very first time. It would be very easy to read Jane Austen's Emma and Alice McVeigh's Harriet in succession so as to get the full impact of some of the questions left unanswered in Austen's book. Also, McVeigh brilliantly introduces characters from some of the other books, such as the Rushworth's and Crawford's from Austen's Mansfield Park, thus solidifying her familiarity with all of the characters and settings.

While in the country, in the quiet pursuit of comfort, the intimate stillness of a summer evening, the plashings of the water by the river, there might be pleasure, affection, ease. Strangely enough – and contrary to my every expectation – the country was far more where my heart lay!

All in all, without a doubt, this is a story not to be missed and will leave any reader who adores the Regency era hurrying to buy all of McVeigh's books so as to get a glimpse into the world of Jane Austen from some very different perspectives. As for this reviewer, McVeigh has gained another fan of her excellent writing!


Harriet” by Alice McVeigh receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



If you would like to have your historical novel editorially reviewed and/or enter the HFC Book of the Year contest GO HERE


bottom of page