Do you ever read a trilogy that (a) should have only been two books at the most, not three, and (b) just kind of gets worse the further you go along? That’s what happened to me with this retelling of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.
- A Contrary Wind
- A Marriage of Attachment
- A Different Kind of Woman
So basically this trilogy explores what would have happened if the winds blowing Sir Thomas home had remained contrary – meaning that the scandalous play being rehearsed at Mansfield Park went on as scheduled, and the various relationship train wrecks that almost happen in the original DID happen. I really enjoyed this concept, especially since the version gives Fanny a little more backbone – she leaves Mansfield Park to find a post as a governess, following her own path. I really enjoyed the first book. Even though it was a little over-the-top in places, I felt like, for the most part, Manning did a good job capturing the essence of the original characters and took the story in a direction that felt possible. I felt like Manning had a lot of leeway in her variation because most people don’t actually like the way Mansfield Park ends. So basically if someone writes a Pride & Prejudice variation, you KNOW Darcy and Elizabeth are going to end up together – otherwise, what’s the point? But few people view Fanny and Edmund the same way, so basically no hard feelings when Manning decides to have their romances go in different directions.
Things started to come apart a little in the second book, mostly because there were long sections that just felt like padding. In the first book, Fanny falls in with an abolitionist group (which actually read really well), but here the societal-improvement sections began to feel a little preachier. This series is also about lots of other characters besides Fanny – the Crawfords, Edmund, and Fanny’s brother William are the main other characters. Some of their storylines got a little ridiculous, but on the whole I still was engaged enough to delve into the third book.
For me, the third book just felt like Manning was dragging everything out. There wasn’t really any kind of plot, so when she was jumping around between characters, it felt clunky and manufactured instead of like things were coming together as it was in the first two books. All the preaching about doing good and helping the poor was a lot more polemic, and there was this whole side plot with Mary Crawford and the real-life poet Shelley that just felt like it was NEVER going to end and also felt COMPLETELY pointless.
Overall, I did like the conclusions for the various characters, and I did love the way that Manning decided to develop Fanny’s character. There were several side plots that I thoroughly enjoyed, but while I gave the first book 4*, the second book only got 3*, and the finally book got 2*. However, there were a few of us reading this at the same time on Litsy and the others seemed to enjoy the concluding book more than I did. So, if you’ve always felt vaguely that Fanny got a little ripped off, I think it’s well worth picking up because Manning does go some creative directions.