Midnight in Austenland is the sequel to Shannon Hale’s 2007 novel Austenland. Where Austenland takes on the spirit of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Midnight in Austenland combines it with the much spookier spirit of Northanger Abbey.
Charlotte Kinder is not your typical Austenian heroine in that she’s not snarky and she isn’t really looking for romance after her husband decided that he wanted to get remarried to his mistress. Charlotte is an incredibly successful businesswoman running a landscaping design company online as well as raising two kids, and finds herself described as “nice”.
She visits her mother for Easter and finds a “Things to Do Before I’m 30” list in her middle school diary. This list included items such as: get married, have a baby, walk in high heels without wobbling, climb Kilimanjaro, and read Jane Austen. She had done most of the items on the list, but never quite managed to read Jane Austen or climb Kilimanjaro. Seeing that reading Austen was something she could easily do, Charlotte picked up the collection of Austen’s works and fell into them when the kids were at their father’s for the weekend.
“She was alone in the house for forty-eight hours and spent most of them with a book in her hand. She read like a woman drinks water after nearly dying of dehydration. The stories pulled out of her sensation after sensation: a fluttering in her belly, a laugh on her lips, a pounding in her heart. Austen’s books made her feel, and that was new, and intoxicating too. And so hopeful. Hope had been that thing with burnt feathers buried in her soul, but now it was waking up, stretching, beating fresh wings in the ashes.”
Later, her sister-in-law recommends that she take a trip while the kids spend three weeks with her ex-husband, so she contacts her travel agency. They recommend a trip to Austenland, and that is where our story truly begins.
In the beginning, she gets dolled up as a Regency-era lady and hopes to dedicate herself to the immersive experience of living the Austen fantasy, but that goes astray when a mystery reveals itself to Charlotte and her fellow Austenians.
Readers who are familiar with Austenland will recognize several recurring characters such as Colonel Andrews, Miss Charming and the Wattlesbrooks, but I think they’ll be pleased to see these characters continue to grow and change in their own ways. You also meet several new cast members who breathe new life into a similar story.
As an avid Shannon Hale reader, I originally read this when it was released in 2012, but decided to re-read it after coming across a paperback copy of Austenland in a thrift store. I remember enjoying it a lot the first time I read it, and that didn’t change with this re-read.
I liked Charlotte as a character. She felt realistic to me in that she had a hard time fully immersing herself in the weirdness of Austenland. She loves her kids and struggles with trying to do the right thing for them, even when it doesn’t feel right for her. She’s also a little bit paranoid, which was entertaining, and not too far-out considering the events in this novel.
I really didn’t like Mr. Mallery from the start. He was supposed to be the Darcy-esque character in Austenland, but he was really just creepy to me. Maybe his level of devotion to the era and to the romance he’s performing could be romantic to some, but it just didn’t work for me.
I loved that Mrs. Wattlesbrook was able to grow from her character as a micromanaging woman into an actual character in this novel. Jane really wouldn’t have been able to get Mrs. Wattlesbrook the way that Charlotte did, and I loved that Charlotte was able to connect with her. I can’t imagine that Mrs. Wattlesbrook lived a very happy life with the way her husband was, and hopefully that can change in her future. Honestly, the true star of this story was female friendship. Charlotte manages to endear herself to all of the women in this story simply by being herself, and that was refreshing to read.
I liked the mystery aspect of this, and I enjoyed the light romance, but readers shouldn’t go into this expecting a serious mystery novel. I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as the first one, but I still found it good enough to re-read and rate 4 stars.