I suppose, if Jane Austen had to choose between Will Shakespeare's posthumous life or her own, she'd be happy enough with zombies and vampires and sea serpents (oh my). Shakespeare has to constantly contend with people doubting his authorship, sexuality and existence. Austen has largely enjoyed life on a pedestal as the mother of all things Regency. Much like Mary Balogh. So my reaction to Mary Balogh writing a paranormal was akin to an undiscovered Austen revealing a sparkly vampire of it's very own. The problem is that while I adore Mary Balogh, I'm not a fan of current paranormal romance. I began Bespelling Jane Austen with some concern.
As it happens, Balogh didn't see herself writing a vampire story either. Her Almost Persuaded deals with reincarnation. It's an interesting experiment that steers clear of paranormal pitfalls other established Regencyland writers have fallen victim to. Instead of changing her style working with reincarnation allows Balogh to progress her characters past their initial discovery phase into a developed relationship. It is a love at first glance tale a bit more physical than Balogh usually tells. My quibbles are minor and rooted more in my opinion of reincarnation itself than the story as told. If certain aspects were developed further, Almost Persuaded could have become a full length novel. It is the second best story in the anthology.
The best, perhaps most fittingly given it's creator was the most motivated, is Susan Krinard's Blood and Prejudice. Krinard is comfortable with paranormal romance and presents it without hitting any of my aversions. Embracing vampires, she creates a world where skeptical Liz Bennett is surrounded by vampires without a guide to telling the good from the evil. It is perhaps the closest to what we think of when we think of an Austen tale, and it is the most realized world in the anthology. Trying to save her father's company, her sister's heart, and her own equilibrium, Liz Bennett is a heroine worthy of a Mr. Darcy. For these two stories alone I'd read Bespelling Jane Austen.
Colleen Gleason's charming Northanger Castle would have been a fitting close for a shorter anthology. Her overly imaginative heroine sees vampires behind every door, gothic plots at every party, and holds a Nancy Drew disdain for her own safety. Her personal Ned emerges as a man who can use her vampire detection skills. The weight of what seems to be a mythology carried over from other books drags the story down for me. If I were an established fan of Gleason's books I would probably have adored Northanger Castle but without that grounding I simply liked it.
All good times must come to an end. Unfortunately the book ends as well in Little to Hex Her by Janet Mullany. I am generally a fan of Mullany so it pains me to say that (for me) this tale is a complete miss. If you enjoy paranormal romance then Little to Hex Her will probably be the highlight of the book. It encapsulated everything I dislike about paranormal romance. Our heroine is a witch babysitting her sister's business in the midst of vampires, warlocks, elves, werewolves, ogres and who knows what else. She has to navigate the social world of Washington D.C. while dealing with a college boyfriend, a saboteur, and a party hook up that left her a bit used. From the 'time of the month' werewolf jokes to the racial profiling (all elves are glamourous, all vampires are cutthroat, you can't trust a.... you get the idea) my buttons were firmly pressed. Without truly resolving the various threads of the plot, the story lurches to it's predestined conclusion leaving the non paranormal reader a bit worse for wear. Which makes this a collection with something for everyone.