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John Eyre
Mimi Matthews. Perfectly Proper, $3.99 e-book (364p) ASIN B08NPLVHVN
In an author’s note, Matthews (Gentleman Jim) cites her inspiration for this inventive but uneven gender-swapped mash-up of Jane Eyre and Dracula as the “strong women” of both original texts. Which makes it all the more peculiar that the opening scene takes place over “Lady Helen Burns’s newly dug grave.” It’s not Helen’s death that will disturb fans of Brontë’s original—it’s that she died by suicide, unrequitedly in love with John Eyre and described as a “clinging vine of femininity.” It’s a sour start: if this is the reimagined fate of one of the strongest women in the original tale, there seems little hope for the rest. Ultimately, however, the exercise finds its stride, braiding John’s present tutoring of the sons of widowed Mrs. Rochester and stumbling onto the supernatural with flashbacks to Mrs. Rochester’s tumultuous courtship with her late husband. John makes a rather bland hero, stripped of history and passion, but Bertha Mason Rochester shines, dominating her scenes with vitality and strength. The style, too, is spot-on, reprising the spirit of 19th-century Gothic prose without descending into mimicry. Still, the best literary reimaginings expand a universe or flesh out a nuance; Matthews accomplishes neither. But, like many practitioners of pastiches, she succeeds in capturing enough flavor to create an enjoyable if lightweight outing. (Self-published)

Reviewed by Publishers Weekly on 06/04/2021