With the popularity of novellas on the rise, I thought I’d pull out one of my favorite novella anthologies: It Happened One Night.
Stephanie Laurens, Mary Balogh, Jacquie D’Alessandro, and Candice Hern wondered what would happen if they each wrote separate novellas, but used common plot elements. Would the stories be the same? Good scientists that they are, they decided not to discuss their work until after the experiment was over. The premise for all four stories: “A man and a woman, who have neither seen nor heard from each other in ten years, meet again when they find themselves staying at the same inn for a twenty-four hour period.” All are set in Regency England, each in a different season.
I’ve participated in challenges similar to this, and thought it was amusing that best-selling authors tried it, too—with good results. They were most decidedly not four of the same story, and each author’s own voice shone through the commonalities. The characters were well developed and had enough backstory to be sympathetic and engaging, which often doesn’t happen in a novella because of its shortened length. Also, in a lot of anthologies and collections, you get some good stories and some that are less so, but not in this case. I had expected to like Mary Balogh’s piece the best because she is one of my favorite authors, but all four stories were strong, well-planned, and well-executed. If asked to rank them from best to worst, I couldn’t, which makes this book worth the price (and even better if you can find it used or on sale!).
There is also a sequel of sorts called It Happened One Season. Apparently these four authors had so much fun the first time, they decided to do it again. This time the common elements came from a contest sponsored by their publisher:
- The hero, a younger brother of a titled lord, has a career in the army, but has lived as a recluse since returning from the war with France.
- The heroine is shy or unattractive and after many Seasons has never had a suitor.
- The hero’s brother has only daughters and asks his brother to marry to try to ensure the succession.
I actually found this one before It Happened One Night, but it doesn’t matter which order you read them in. The stories are each a bit longer than their predecessors, but still readable in a sitting or two.