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Following in the Footsteps of Jane Austen - an Editorial Review of "Susan (a Jane Austen Prequel)"

Book Blurb:

Familiar characters abound - Frank Churchill, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Darcy himself - but Susan - mischievous and manipulative - is the star. This is Austen that even Austen might have loved, with a touch of Georgette Heyer in the romantic sections. Fans of Bridgerton will also relish this classic regency romance, the first in a six-book series.

Sixteen-year-old Susan Smithson - pretty but poor, clever but capricious - has just been expelled from a school for young ladies in London.

At the mansion of the formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, she attracts a raffish young nobleman. But, at the first hint of scandal, her guardian dispatches her to her uncle Collins' rectory in Kent, where her sensible cousin Alicia lives and "where nothing ever happens."

Here Susan mischievously inspires the local squire to put on a play, with consequences no one could possibly have foreseen. What with the unexpected arrival of Frank Churchill, Alicia's falling in love and a tumultuous elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem safe again...

Author Bio:

Alice McVeigh was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Thailand, Singapore, and Myanmar, where her father was a US diplomat. After teenage years in McLean, Virginia, and achieving a degree in cello performance at the internationally renowned Jacobs School of Music, she came to London to study cello with William Pleeth. After settling in London, she began to work all over the world with orchestras including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique.

McVeigh was first published in the 1990s, when her two contemporary novels (While the Music Lasts and Ghost Music) were published by Orion Publishing – now Hachette – to excellent reviews, including: “The orchestra becomes a universe in microcosm; all human life is here . . . McVeigh succeeds in harmonising a supremely comic tone with much darker notes.”(The Sunday Times) And: “McVeigh is a professional cellist and is thus able to describe with wry authority the extraordinary life of a London orchestra. This is a very enjoyable novel, and not quite as light as it pretends to be.” (The Sunday Telegraph)

In February 2021, UK independent Unbound published her speculative thriller, Last Star Standing under her pen name, Spaulding Taylor. It received a Kirkus star, and in January 2022 has just made the semi-finals of Chanticleer's Cygnus Award.

Also in 2021, Warleigh Hall Press released Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel. A quarterfinalist in Publishers Weekly's 2021 BookLife Prize, it recently took First Place in the PenCraft Book Awards and the gold medal (historical) in the Global Book Awards. Shelf Unbound magazine selected it as one of the “100 notable indies of 2021”. The BookLife Prize rated it 10/10. (“Pitch-perfect... this Austen-inspired novel echoes the master herself.”) The second of her six-novel Austenesque series – Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation - will be published on Feb. 3, 2022.

Alice is married to Professor Simon McVeigh; and their daughter Rachel is currently studying Chinese Literature at Peking University. When not playing cello, writing, or editing, Alice is generally smiting tennis balls at the Bromley Tennis Centre. (Often too hard. As her daughter acutely observed when aged four, “My mum hits the ball farther than anybody!”)

Editorial Review:

How disagreeable to be poor!” she thought, fingering her gowns. Pretty as she was – and even Lavinia had allowed her to be the prettiest in the school – it was hard to set off creamy skin, perfect features, exquisite proportions and luxuriant black curls in twice-turned gowns with unfashionable sleeves – especially when so many girls boasted wardrobes crammed with beribboned confections. In the end she selected her second-best muslin with her worn-out shoes for, to be sure, there would be no one else at Mrs Cooper's on Thursday.

Bravo, bravo, Ms McVeigh!! While many attempt to imitate Jane Austen's genius, Ms McVeigh does more than imitate, she speaks with Miss Austen's voice and gives the reader a book which might as well be listed in the Austen catalog as if Jane wrote it herself. This is, to be sure, a rare feat and worthy of much praise!

While loosely based on the character, Lady Susan Vernon, of Jane Austen's “Lady Susan”, this story tells the story of Susan Smithson, a poor sixteen-year-old whose good looks and cleverness leaves her the target for gossip and unfounded rumors. When Susan is sent home from school due to a fallacious rumor of her and the music teacher, she must conform to her aunt and uncle's decision to send her off to the country, to Hunsford, to her other uncle and aunt who are none other than the Rev. and Mrs. Collins of “Pride and Prejudice”-fame. But before that happens, Susan becomes acquainted with Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice) after a fainting incident in which she encounters Colonel Fitzwilliam (Pride and Prejudice), the very man who killed her father in a duel. The episode is fortuitous as doors seem to open to her every which way she turns, first with Lady Catherine's patronage, and then with the introduction to the Earl of Mornay's devastatingly handsome younger brother, Oliver.

Oh, London, London! - London was where she belonged, not the dreary sameness of the country, where even the most innocent diversions depended on the whims of richer neighbours... She recollected London with yearning, recalling the moment when she and Edward had arrived at the Earl's ball, the wavering candles, the resplendent carriages, the London flavour of anticipation and possibility! Had there ever been a place like it? - How she yearned for the smell of autumn bonfires, for the clamour of its distant bells, for the appearance of the beau monde in St Jame's Park, even for the bustle and clatter of tradesmen passing her uncle's house! Oh, why was she in Hunsford, when London still endured?

And fortune follows her to the country as she is reunited with her cousin, Alicia Collins, and the two of them embark on visiting the nearby estate of the Johnsons. The elder Mr Johnson, now widowed, is determined to surround himself with young people and exciting diversions such as fox hunting, balls, and play-acting. Before long, the house is filled with visitors along with his daughter, Laura, his son, Henry, an eligible heiress named Miss Richardson, both Susan Smithson and Alicia Collins, Mr McHale (who thinks himself skilled in directing plays), and one of Miss Smithson's dearest friends, Mr Frank Churchill (Emma).

Frank Churchill was certainly a fine young man – a young man who might have charmed girls far more accustomed than Susan to the company of handsome and agreeable young men. He had a winning confidence, a skill for catching the tone of every conversation, and the knack of teasing without giving offence, that – coupled with the grace of his person – made him a favourite everywhere. After he had spent two evenings in her uncle's house, Susan believed her head quite turned by him.

As is expected from Austen-esque novels, this one is resplendent in the flow of the narrative, the style so reminiscent of Jane Austen, and in the staging. We have young poor girls without any viable prospects for the future, we have well-known characters from some of the other books, we have handsome eligible bachelors in search of a wife, and we have secrets, elopements, whispers, a play which recalls scenes from “Mansfield Park”, and lots of dancing, along with the main character, a young girl whose character is a mixture of Lizzy Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, and Mary Anne Dashwood – (and maybe a splash of the silliness and craftiness of Lydia Bennet).

The play, as it does in “Mansfield Park”, drives the young people together, and chaos ensues as emotions run high, and Susan finds herself wondering about her own future, especially when faced with the possibility of one with Frank. But when tragedy interrupts the play, she finds herself enriched in more ways than one, which changes her and Frank's future entirely.

Without a doubt, this novel is beautifully written and an exceptional addition to any Austen-lovers library. Very highly recommended.

My dear Oliver, one should never underestimate any woman with the power to make herself thoroughly unpleasant. And then her influence – it might do a great deal, for a young lady especially. You are not in want of a society marriage to make your fortune.”

Nay, but have not we established that this is exactly what I am in need of?”


Susan (a Jane Austen Prequel) by Alice McVeigh receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company


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