Jane by Robin Maxwell
Author: Robin Maxwell
Genre: Fiction (Historical / 1900s / Victorian England / New Woman / Africa / Adventure / Pulp / Anthropology / Human Evolution / 'Noble Savage' / Colonialism)
Publisher/Publication Date: Tor Books (9/18/2012)
Source: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tour
Did I finish?: I did -- I raced through this one!
One-sentence summary: Victorian 'New' Woman Jane Porter embarks on an expedition to Africa with her father, and discovers love, adventure, her soul mate, and the missing link.
Reading Challenges: Historical Fiction, Victorian
Do I like the cover?: I don't mind it -- I like it has the pen-and-ink style I associate with Tarzan and other classic stories
I'm reminded of...: Carol K. Carr, Sandra Gulland
First line: Good Lord, she was magnificent!
Am... I fascinated by the process that lead Maxwell to be the first woman to write an authorized Tarzan novel?: YES. She shares some of that in interviews with folks on the tour. (I'll be sharing an interview with her tomorrow!) A mix of fate, chance, and the muse, it seems! Maxwell has also done a series of articles for Tor about Tarzan and her book which I again recommend -- fascinating stuff!
Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow if you like Victoriana, adventure novels, and historicals with great heroines -- even if you're unfamiliar with Tarzan!
Why did I get this book?: I was desperate for it, pretty much since I heard about it in the early spring.
Review: I was, for some reason, unabashedly excited for this book the moment I learned about it. Even though I hadn't read any of the Tarzan novels (until last month), the idea of Jane's story, through her eyes, immediately grabbed imagination.
Briefly, this book and I got off to a rocky start. The novel's opening sentence -- Good Lord, she was magnificent! -- about our heroine Jane did not endear the book to me, I admit. (I hate it when authors are overly in love with their heroines.) When the character thinking about how awesome Jane was turned out to be none other than Edgar Rice Burroughs, I just about threw the book down.
Thankfully, I didn't, and around page 17, the story really started. Jane, sharing her tale with Ed Burroughs, begins in Africa, when she wakes up in a nest made by a gorgeous man of European descent, savage and wild. Flashing back to how she ended up in Africa, and her growing relationship with the man she comes to call Tarzan, we meet a woman striving to find her own identity, indulged and encouraged by a brilliant father, interested in science, anthropology, and evolution. A chance meeting with an American adventurer leads her and her father on an expedition into Africa which changes her entire life.
Maxwell hit all the right notes for me in evoking Jane as a Victorian 'New Woman' and I'm grateful she had Jane embrace that radical identity (rather than, say, have Jane be conservative but feisty, blah blah). In chewing over what Jane Porter might be like, I immediately thought of Mary Kingsley, and to my delight, Maxwell has Jane being a huge Kingsley fangirl. Jane is a woman of privilege who both relishes her privilege -- it gets her into Cambridge -- and bristles at it -- she loves to fight her mother about getting married. She's both curious about sex and dresses modestly (sans corset, of course!). She has contradictions, strengths, and shortcomings that felt authentic to me, and yet embodied the kind of larger-than-life ideal of the pulp world she came from.
This is a Burroughs estate authorized Tarzan novel, and I was a little nervous it might suffer from a sunny, cheesy tone but to my surprise (and relief), there is some darkness, an awareness of the thorny, problematic setting and mores of the era, and unabashed sensuality. (Jane's lingering, longing, lustful admiration of Tarzan's body was a bit lost on me, but I have friends who love cheesecake and I think they'll appreciate Jane's feelings.)
Unsure if I needed the background, last month I went ahead and read Burroughs' first Tarzan novel, which was a fine but not a favorite read for me. I will say I don't think you need to have read the Tarzan books to enjoy this one -- it very much is a standalone novel that is set in a universe familiar to many, but with new twists, angles, and arcs. It is both an homage to a pulp hero and mythos as well as an original historical novel.
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I'm thrilled to be able to offer TWO copies of Jane to lucky readers! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US, Canadian and European readers. Ends 10/26. See my interview with Robin Maxwell tomorrow for another chance to enter!