I really wanted to like this book as Emma is one of my favorite Jane Austen novels (not as well-loved as Pride and Prejudice, but that's beside the point). Upon reading the sample, I was thoroughly intrigued with the idea of discovering what Mr. & Mrs. Knightley's ever-after resembled. How was life at Hartfield? How did they adjust to living as husband and wife after viewing each other for so long as friends--and friends with such a disparity in ages? How did the marriages of some of the other characters turn out? Would Augusta Elton develop any taste and lose her vulgar sense of vanity? (After reading this book, I can say with all certainty that she did not.)
Within the opening pages, we discover that Jane Fairfax Churchill, after giving birth to a son, met an unfortunate and untimely death. This sets into motion a series of events that completely alters everyone's lives--and the Knightleys' marriage. These events were interesting enough that, despite my utter dislike for the story, I simply had to finish reading the book instead of abandoning it as I heartily wished to do.
Perhaps I've seen the Gwynneth Paltrow version of Emma too many times to be able to accurately perceive the truth in this from the actual story, but it seemed to me that Emma, by the time she married Mr. Knightley, had undergone a transformation in the way she viewed other people. She seemed less of a snob, less concerned about status and such. This, however, is far from the Emma that Mrs. Billington portrayed. Her Emma was just as haughty and snobbish--and judgmental--as the "real" Emma from the start of Jane Austen's novel. No transformation had been made after even a year of marriage, which I find extremely hard to believe.
I also read with disapproval the portrayal of Emma & Knightley's marriage and their lack of communication. How could two people--as portrayed by Jane Austen--with so much ability to make themselves known and heard by the other suffer through so many months of a sudden lack of communication? There were times I just wanted to smack both of them and shout, "Talk to each other!" While possibly more true to real life (especially during those early years of marriage), it was not the Emma and Knightley I've grown familiar with through the years. And while I appreciated not having to read about it (I heartily disapprove and dislike when authors use descriptive sex scenes---particularly in Austen continuations. I believe she would roll over in her grave at such things), I find it extremely hard to believe that there was no passion in their marriage, as Mrs. Billington would have us believe.
Finally, while Frank Churchill's character is far from reproach in Emma, I cannot believe he is so bad, so inherently wicked, as Mrs. Billington portrays him in her novel. He has always been selfish, self-centered, and devious. But I just cannot agree that "womanizer" and "debauched cad" are also traits that should also be added to his list of faults.
This book was very well written and would probably be thoroughly enjoyed by someone who has not previously read Emma. The Jane Austen enthusiasts looking for a continuation of a beloved book will want to keep looking.