Midnight in Austenland
By: Shannon Hale
Published date: Februrary 2012
Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Midnight in Austenland is not exactly a sequel to Austenland, but does bring us back to that world. In many ways, it is a good follow-up, but ultimately falls a little flat when compared to the original. The plot is engrossing, and the characters enjoyable, but it reads in the end as a too-similar telling of a too-similar story with less careful writing.
What it does well includes presenting a completely relatable heroine, who feels very real and whose story makes it easy for the reader to connect with her. Midnight in Austenland tells the story of recent divorcee Charlotte Kinder who finds herself in Austenland, a Regency-themed immersive vacation spot in attempt to recover herself after the loss of her marriage. Her ex-husband is appropriately despicable (unfaithful and money-grubbing), but while the story of their marriage and its unraveling is central to this book and unfolds along with the present story, the real problem Charlotte seems to be facing is figuring out how to again be herself, by herself. Married young and now alone in her late 30s, Charlotte realizes that even with her two children and her wildly successful landscape design business, she has not done many of the things she had wanted to do. She begins by reading Austen, and uses the vacation as an opportunity to get back in touch with herself.
For readers of Austenland, her arrival there will bring back a lot of fond memories. A few familiar faces reappear, including the positively delightful Miss Eliza Charming (who also grows far more as a rounded person this time around). Unfortunately, a few too many familiar plotlines also begin to appear. There are again the mysterious motivations of other guests, the odd behavior of the cast and owners, the despicable Mr. Wattlesbrook, and two love interests, one who initially seems most appropriate but ultimately turns out to be a cad, and the one who wasn’t initially an interest at all, but turns out to be Mr. Right. The latter is where the problems start; for readers of the first book, the entire plot is easily determined by the second day at Pembroke Park. Now, I’ll freely admit, that might not be a problem for all readers, and so the book might be significantly more enjoyable for those readers.
This isn’t the only problem. While generally, Hale’s writing style is engaging and casual enough to feel like the reader is getting a true glance into Charlotte’s mind. In places, however, it moves from simply casual to downright cringeworthy. There are several genuinely painful lines, and frankly they took me out of the story. Hale’s style can be a lot of fun, so I have to think this was either carelessness or a case of not enough editing. Still, those moments don’t happen frequently enough to make me not recommend this book; they are just something to be aware of.
Overall, this book is still a great deal of fun. It is imperfect, and that is important to know, but it’s also enjoyable. I read the entire thing in a single sitdown, and that always counts for a lot. The characters are pretty good, the plot is pretty engrossing (with a nice added mystery this time around), but the weaknesses do detract from the book’s overall success. I’d recommend taking a look at Austenland first; if you find that you love the world, give Midnight in Austenland a try. I think you’ll find more to like about it than not.