Persuasion is Jane Austen’s most mature novel. It has always been my favourite of her books and the older I’ve become, the more I’ve appreciated it. Anne Eliot is a much more complex character than Austen’s other heroines. In the course of the novel we see her develop from a somewhat self-deprecating, confined woman to a happy and self-confident one. Whilst Captain Wentworth is the catalyst for this, he is not responsible for the change – that comes from Anne herself. She has learnt from her own mistakes as well as from other people’s and is a stronger person for it. I’ve always hoped that Captain Wentworth realises that he is not getting the bride he would have had seven years earlier…

In The Star of Kazan, Eva Ibbotson fashioned a jewel! With a deft touch she created memorable characters: Annika, a girl in love with life and Austria; Ellie and Sigrid, servants defined by duty and generosity; the eccentric professors for whom they work; the glacial Edeltraut von Tannenberg. And Vienna. The warmth and fondness with which the author describes Vienna make me feel as though I’ve been there – although I never have. It is a wonderful evocation full of waltzes, Sauerkraut, the not-so-blue Danube, the Prater, Lipizzaner stallions and affectionate laughter at the city’s idiosyncrasies. Vienna is integral to the novel. It is more than a setting in time and place. It is a main character. The Star of Kazan is a delight. Eva Ibbotson’s gentle irony and subtle humour enhance a beautifully crafted and well-managed plot. There is no extraneous detail; like an expertly conducted symphony, everything comes together in a satisfying Viennese conclusion.

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