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Alice McVeigh
Susan: A Jane Austen Prequel
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 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 shocking elopement, rural Kent will surely never seem quite so safe again.

Quarter Finalist

Plot/Idea: 10 out of 10
Originality: 10 out of 10
Prose: 10 out of 10
Character/Execution: 10 out of 10
Overall: 10.00 out of 10


Plot: The storyline transpires with the rush of a dress rehearsal, which is only fitting for this Austenian prologue. As the characters perform A Midsummer Night’s Dream, McVeigh fictionalizes even Shakespeare’s work in an exquisite diversion from the classics.

Prose/Style: The ornate words wholly reflect the language of the nineteenth century. The author’s writing fashions antiquity, where the sentences feel posh and intellectual.

Originality: This book contains a charming awareness of Jane Austen’s novels that careful readers can collect like small tokens. As Susan says, she is neither “handsome, clever, well-travelled, rich,” and McVeigh flaunts her success with reinvention.

Character Development/Execution: Some characters feel strikingly similar to Austen’s characters, while others including Mr. Darcy, Mr. Hawthorn, and Frank Churchill come straight from the original novels. In this nineteenth-century portrayal, Emma mingles with Pride and Prejudice in a delightful confrontation between the two books' worlds.

Date Submitted: April 29, 2021

Novelist, editor, and ghostwriter McVeigh (While the Music Lasts) offers an outstanding addition to the canon of Jane Austen-inspired fiction with this utterly charming period novel, a prequel to Austen’s sharp-elbowed Lady Susan. Poor and orphaned, Susan Smithson is 16 and living in London with her uncle George, an attorney, and her aunt Emily. After being booted from her school due to unseemly rumors, Susan is dispatched to rural Hunsford, Kent, to live with her aunt Charlotte, her beloved cousin Alicia, and her rector uncle William — but not before catching the fancy of formidable Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who fashions herself to be Susan’s mentor. Shenanigans abound in Kent, including producing a play, secret engagements, and a surprising death, not to mention a reversal of fortune for several characters.

McVeigh’s Austenesque prose and plotting are pitch-perfect, and in fact many readers will forget they’re reading the words of a contemporary novelist. One chapter opens, “Lady Catherine, who prided herself on her timeliness, expected to leave for the country at half-eleven, and by half-ten was already harrying her servants, berating her coachmen and confusing her maids, while Susan sat quietly in the drawing-room, pretending to be immersed in a book.” Susan, of course, is a mischievous and clever heroine in the tradition of Austen’s pluckiest characters, and McVeigh populates her story with a cast of first-rate supporting characters, especially Susan’s cousin Alicia, who in the end provides the biggest surprise of the tale.

McVeigh’s depiction of Regency society and class castes rings true on every page, offering a clear picture of how restrictive circumstances were for anyone not rich, white, and male. (She also demonstrates the outrages that society allowed privileged men to get away with.) While this title will be catnip to dedicated Austen fans, even new initiates into her work will be captivated by this lively tale.

Takeaway:This exceptionally crafted Austen-inspired novel echoes the master herself.

Great for fans of: Jane Austen, Ibi Zoboi’s Pride, Jo Baker’s Longbourn.

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