Guest Post by Danielle Burton - Review of Jane Austen Investigates: The Abbey Mystery, by Julia Golding

We've had a few book reviews on the blog now, and I'm super excited to share one this time by Danielle Burton, who writes at Voyager of History. She has a special interest in Anthony Woodville and the Wars of the Roses and has a degree in History and an MA in Public History and Heritage. You can also follow her on Twitter

As a self-confessed Janeite, I regularly buy things to satisfy my Jane Austen obsession, much to the despair of many who know me. When I saw Julia Golding’s book advertised, despite it being described as a children’s book suitable for those aged 9+, I was instantly intrigued by its concept. I purchased a signed copy from the Jane Austen Centre, which can be bought here: It comes with a tote bag with ‘What Would Jane Do’ written on. It is good quality and I like the fact the image used matches the front cover of the book. Just another little added extra to please any Jane Austen fan. 

A teenage Jane Austen is sent in the place of her sister, Cassandra, to Southmoor Abbey to be a companion to Lady Cromwell for a week. Cassandra suffered an arm injury after both her and Jane were in a carriage accident. As this was very unladylike, the Cromwells were told Cassandra was just unwell, as an explanation for sending Jane instead. Whilst at Southmoor Abbey, Jane finds herself at odds with the family. Right from the start of her arrival, she finds herself treated like a servant, rather than a companion. Lady Cromwell in particular makes it known how she preferred Cassandra. To distract herself, Jane becomes an amateur detective, initially this is because she sees a ghostly looking monk. Circumstances soon escalate and she ends up investigating horse theft and a fire in a library. There are many twists and turns before the truth is revealed, included the arrest of an innocent person, but with Jane’s investigating skills, the story had a more than satisfactory conclusion. 

There’s no denying this book is influenced by Jane’s book, Northanger Abbey, itself a satirical version of a Gothic novel. Golding manages to capture this essence, alongside Jane’s indifference to all things Gothic, very well and in a way I feel a reader of any age could find amusing. Jane is as witty as ever and gives off Elizabeth Bennett vibes throughout, which I found especially appealing. To many of us already accustomed to Jane’s works and life, it was easy to see the real Jane reflected in the book. I equally feel this could be an easy way to introduce children and young people into the life and works of Jane Austen. It was a much needed escape into the 18th century, but in a way that still made it feel relevant to today. The attempt at archaic language is believable and is used in a way that still makes it understandable to a modern audience of all ages.

All the characters within the book felt very real and had great character development throughout, but in a way that still kept an air of mystery as to who was responsible for the strange goings on. I particularly liked the inclusion of servants, who befriended Jane, who in return helped stand up for them, despite the marginalisation she herself found during her stay at The Abbey. It was endearing to read the relationships Jane developed with them, especially the Indian girl, Deepti, and her father, and the stable boy, Luke. I particularly liked how Luke was given hidden engineering talents as he creates a model steam engine. Whilst I’m not entirely sure how well a servant would have known how to do this, I do understand the good intentions this has. It is part of the story to not judge others by their appearances, a running theme throughout Jane Austen’s novels.

The inclusions of funny and intimate puzzle style letters Jane writes to Cassandra were a clever addition. This was a good allusion to the relationship the sisters shared and a hint to the surviving juvenilia of this much loved author. Though it was outside of the scope of the novel to include Cassandra’s reaction to receiving these letters, the reader’s mind did wonder what the older sister would have made to the strangeness of the Cromwell Household, often hidden in secret code within the letters. 

The book has a slightly slow start whilst the setting and characters are established, but once you get through this section, it soon becomes hard to put down. I managed to get through it very quick and was incredibly sad to reach the end. I honestly enjoyed reading it and found myself wanting to know more throughout. A second book, The Burgler’s Ball, about a stolen necklace, is due to be released on 22nd October. It will involve Cassandra and Jane together after being invited to spent time with their old headmistress. I hope that the sisters relationship will be explored further than in the first book. I will be waiting excitedly for it and have already got it on preorder!

Thank you to Danielle for the guest post! Please go along and have a look at her blog Voyager of History. 

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