2 1/2 stars? I think?
I'm not sure what made me read this when I did. It certainly wasn't a deep devotion to either Mansfield Park or Fanny Price that made me long for a continuation of the story. I know I acquired the book a good ways back because Joan Aiken is on my List, and because I was curious about her continuations of Jane Austen… it just slotted itself into my reading schedule, I guess.
So. Four years after the end of Mansfield Park, Fanny and Edmund are happily married and growing a family (MP spoiler! Well, but it's in the book description); Edmund's father has died and someone has to go to off to see to things on the plantations, and since every time anyone says "someone" everyone turns and looks at Edmund, off he and Fanny go. And with them neatly out of the way, the focus is free to shift entirely to Fanny's sister Susan, brought to Mansfield at the end of the book to take Fanny's place as Lady Bertram's companion.
It was almost comical how briskly Fanny was ushered out of the book. After all, though, what's to tell? She's happy, and having children – how boring. On to Susan, who's much more interesting anyway. There are new folks in the area – Edmund's replacement as minister and his sister – and it's almost comical how much they resemble the Crofts from Persuasion. They're wonderful people, and bond with Susan, and even make a good impression on the Bertrams, fight though they must against their prejudices; I liked them – but then, I loved the Crofts, so I would do. And there are folks returning to the area: Mary Crawford, for one, who is ill and has fled her life of dissipation. Which of course now, as she begins to build a friendship with Susan, turns out to have been not so very dissipated, and she was wronged, and anyway she's probably dying now so it's all right. And then, of course, where Mary goes eventually Henry Crawford shows up – and you know, he's not such a bad fellow, either. He was awfully in love with Fanny … but she's married and not here anyway, and hey look here's her little sister! It's Fanny Lite! Maybe I have a shot with her … And of course as soon as it becomes clear that Crawford is sniffing around Susan, Cousin Tom Bertram wakes up to the fact that she's of age now and no longer the uncouth plaguey nuisance of a child.
I don't know. I have a great deal of respect for Joan Aiken, but this just seemed ill-advised from start to finish. All of the inconveniences from Jane Austen – Fanny, Mrs. Norris, Maria – have been surgically removed, and inconvenient aspects of other characters have undergone extensive plastic surgery, and really why not just write a whole new standalone novel? It was very hard to swallow the rehabilitation of two selfish, thoughtless, amoral characters. And the ending was … abrupt, and felt disjointed. It just didn't work.