The year is 1905, the place Cambridge University. Jane Porter, a headstrong and passionate young woman, is the first female student to be admitted to the university’s sole anatomy laboratory. While she cannot graduate with a degree, Jane’s ambition to become a recognized paleoanthropologist is high—after all, she has the unwavering support of Professor Archie Porter, a renowned scientist and Jane’s much beloved father. When the dashing American Ral Conrad proposes a paleoanthropological mission to West Africa to prove the theories of Charles Darwin and substantiate the findings of Eugene Dubois, Professor Porter and Jane are thrilled to lead the expedition. But, as their mission progresses, Conrad’s cruel and duplicitous nature becomes clear to father and daughter. Jane must devise a way to stop Conrad before he gets away with his dastardly schemes of murder, betrayal and pillage.
When all seems lost, and Jane left to die an unspeakable death, enter Tarzan: son of the marooned and deceased Lord and Lady Graystoke, raised by Apes in the wilds of western Africa. While Tarzan does save Jane’s life and earns her heart, this time around Jane holds her own as a modern woman that is every bit the heroine to Tarzan’s hero.
Book Smugglers weigh in on 'The Man from Primrose Lane.'
First published in 1912, Tarzan of the Apes marked the world’s introduction to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ iconic protagonist. Now, many novelizations and film adaptations later, we are finally given Jane’s side of the story—which, I am thrilled to say, is pretty freakin’ fantastic. Officially authorized by the Burroughs estate, Jane is the first retelling in the Tarzan canon to be penned by a woman, and author Robin Maxwell does a phenomenal job of preserving the wild magic of the original series while updating it with a more capable and empowered heroine.
And, fellow readers, let me tell you: I adored this iteration of Jane Porter.
Headstrong to a fault, Jane is ambitious and educated, but at the same time wholly naive— especially when it comes to what she truly wants. Make no mistake, Jane is a love story as much as it is an adventure. But more than giving life, vibrancy and passion to the relationship between Jane and her Tarzan, this is a tale of a young woman coming of age and embracing her desires and beliefs, inside and out.
Beyond the strength of its eponymous character, the re-imagining of key figures and themes in the Tarzan mythos is expertly handled and respectful of the source material. In particular, the tie between the Mangani (Tarzan’s surrogate family clan of highly evolved apes) and Jane’s search for proof of Darwin’s ape-man missing link, is ingenious. The only downsides to this novel? The device of having Jane narrate the story to Burroughs himself is slightly trite, and overall Jane is perhaps too modern for her time period. The finale of the book (in which a lost civilization is unearthed) is also perhaps a bit over the top.
Yet, in spite of these minor qualms, Jane is a resounding success and a book I loved from beginning to end.
In Book Smugglerish, an enthusiastic, chest-pounding 8 out of 10.