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Alice McVeigh
Harriet: A Jane Austen Variation
This is the second in my Austenesque series (the first being a 2021 BookLife quarterfinalist). It features an intriguingly oblique "take" on Austen's immortal EMMA, but one - I hope! - with the same "pitch-perfect" ear as Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel.
Plot/Idea: 8 out of 10
Originality: 7 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 8 out of 10
Overall: 8.00 out of 10


Idea: McVeigh’s plot is well-developed and delivered at an even, smooth pace. The events unfold in a natural progression, with enough curveballs to keep readers interested. 

Prose: McVeigh employs period-appropriate prose that is emphatic and natural – reminiscent of others in the genre. Her dialogue is effortless and flows smoothly between a broad range of characters.

Originality: Harriet stays within the expected limits of the Austen universe, while also delivering a few fresh twists. Readers fond of the genre will be gratified with its breezy writing and polished delivery.

Character/Execution: McVeigh’s characters are well-developed and manage to offer some surprises, despite being limited somewhat by their stylistic range. Readers will find them engaging and commanding, until the very last page.

Date Submitted: April 01, 2022

McVeigh follows up the charming Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel with a second retelling of Jane Austen’s stories, this time from the perspectives of Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax, both familiar from Austen’s beloved Emma. McVeigh reimagines Austen’s naïve and somewhat insipid Harriet as a perceptive young woman, “quick, clever and beautiful,” who, though “intimidated by her boldness, her house, her clothes,” sees an opportunity to better her station by attaching herself to Emma Woodhouse as a protégé. Emma is oblivious to Harriet’s intentions and enthusiastically takes on the role of tutor and matchmaker, especially as it proves a welcome distraction from her rivalry with Jane Fairfax.

McVeigh offers plenty of wry insight, sparkling chatter, and domestic intrigue that will please readers, particularly loyal Austen fans. Jane faces a precarious situation involving her closest friend, Caroline, and her husband, Mr. Dixon. An escape comes when she meets Frank Churchill and the two fall for each other, but Churchill’s attempts to hide his feelings from his mother may sabotage the possibility of a future together, between his pursuit of Emma and his biting remarks about Jane’s “most deplorable want of complexion.”

McVeigh draws inspiration from her love of Jane Fairfax, and she certainly paints a fuller, more complete picture that gives welcome complexity to the musically talented and fragile young woman with an uncertain future. Harriet, though, is the character who shines brightest in this reimagining. In Austen’s original, Harriet is almost thoughtless and willing to do anything to please Emma, but here she is a character of great depth, hiding facets of her personality and skills, often catching what those around her miss, and ultimately facing a compelling romantic decision. McVeigh again is on point with both the writing style, language, and consistency in Austen’s characters, making this a treat for anyone who loves the original stories.

Takeaway: A reimagining of Jane Austen’s Emma from new perspectives offers a fresh, engaging take on the world of Highbury.

Great for fans of: Molly Greeley’s The Clergyman’s Wife, and Susan Kaye’s Frederick Wentworth, Captain series.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A