Review: The Emma Project by Sonali Dev

  • Title: The Emma Project
  • Author: Sonali Dev
  • Publisher: Avon Books
  • Release Date: 5/17/22
  • Genre: Contemporary Fiction
  • Age Range: Young Adult
  • Rating: ★★★
  • Publisher’s Summary: Emma gets a fresh Indian-American twist from award-winning author Sonali Dev in her heartwarmingly irresistible Jane Austen inspired rom com series. No one can call Vansh Raje’s life anything but charmed. Handsome—Vogue has declared him California’s hottest single—and rich enough to spend all his time on missions to make the world a better place. Add to that a doting family and a contagiously sunny disposition and Vansh has made it halfway through his twenties without ever facing anything to throw him off his admittedly spectacular game. A couple years from turning forty, Knightlina (Naina) Kohli has just gotten out of a ten-year-long fake relationship with Vansh’s brother and wants only one thing from her life…fine, two things. One, to have nothing to do with the unfairly blessed Raje family ever again. Two, to bring economic independence to millions of women in South Asia through her microfinance foundation and prove her father wrong about, well, everything. Just when Naina’s dream is about to come to fruition, Vansh Raje shows up with his misguided Emma Project… And suddenly she’s fighting him for funding and wondering if a friends-with-benefits arrangement that’s as toe-curlingly hot as it is fun is worth risking her life’s work for.

I have read the first three books in the Raje series, and I was eager to see how Sonali Dev tackled Emma. Emma is my favorite of Austen’s novels, and it is probably one of my favorite books of all time. I love Emma Woodhouse.

As a diehard fan of the source material, all of the little nods to the Austen made me smile. I immediately recognized that Hari was Dev’s version of Harriet Smith just from the name. It felt like a bit of stretch that Naina’s “real” name is Knightlina (as in George Knightley), but I did appreciate the wink to me and my fellow Austen fans.

I actually wanted more of the plot of Emma from The Emma Project. The parallels between Naina and Vansh and Emma and Knightley were there: the loose family connection and the age difference to name a few. However, I missed the Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill plotline, and Hari played a much smaller role in the story than Harriet Smith does in Austen’s novel.

Vansh is a very charming character. He is charismatic and passionate while caring deeply not only about his family, but about strangers in need. Naina mocks him early in the book and calls him shallow, but it could not be clearer that he is genuine in wanting to make the world a better place.

I found it harder to like Naina. Her relationship with her abusive father is devastating, and it is certainly clear that Naina doesn’t feel worthy of love. It’s clear that she wants to do good in the world, but I never felt the sense of caring that I did from Vansh (or Mr. Knightley for that matter). I am glad that Naina finds Vansh to make her feel loved and cared for.

Austen’s signature is her social satire. While Dev’s series doesn’t have the same satirical nature, The Emma Project does address social issues. Naina and Vansh are established in earlier books in the series as people who travel the world helping others. In The Emma Project, they work together to address homelessness in San Francisco, which is no small feat.

I love the way that Dev has intertwined the stories of the Raje family and how each book focuses on a different member of the family à la the Brown sisters trilogy. However, in The Emma Project, I found that the romance between Esha and Sid distracted from the main love story between Naina and Vansh. The Esha and Sid subplot didn’t further the story the way Harriet and Mr. Martin’s romance furthers the plot in Emma.

If Dev decides to do a Northanger Abbey or Mansfield Park next, I will be ready to see what happens to the Raje family next.

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