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In a fitting conclusion to her Jane Austen-inspired quartet about The Raje Family, Sonali Dev offers the steamiest entry of the series with her gender-reversing The Emma Project. It overflows with fight, love, humor, and pathos as characters rage, simmer, ignite, and succeed.

Dumped by long-time boyfriend and new California governor, Yash (Crown Prince of the Raje Family), for the serene India Dashwood (Incense and Sensibility), Naina wants nothing to do with any of the Rajes ever again.

Wounded, she focuses solely on her work: purchase land in Nepal, build clinics, train local women to be midwives, and hire doctors who specialize in prenatal and postnatal care. She’s riding high as the recipient of a massive endowment from the rags-to-riches poster boy, philanthropist Jiggy Mehta.

Getting Jiggy With It

But her high crashes hard when the young, footloose Baby Prince, Vansh Raje, shows up. Rather than attending college, Vansh opted to join the Peace Corps, and now he’s returned home. GQ handsome and barely twenty-six years old, he’s already turning heads—including Jiggy Mehta’s.

Jiggy decides Naina must share her funding with a project of Vansh’s creation—he likes the Raje name. Naina is outraged. Now her $15 million endowment is in jeopardy, which means seven hundred thousand lives in Nepal are as well. She takes it out on Vansh, taunting him because certainly none of his “do-gooder projects” were anywhere near the scale of what she’s doing.

The easygoing Vansh, however, believes they can work together on both projects. After all, the two always stuck together as kids because they were their families’ outliers despite the 12-year difference in ages.

Overindulged Brat

Instead, Naina likens Vansh to Austen’s Emma.

“Emma,” she explains, “is an overindulged, albeit well-meaning, brat, who is looking for matchmaking projects so she can feel good about herself while filling all that empty time she has on her overprivileged hands.” She crisply dubs his idea to assist the Bay Area’s homeless an “Emma Project.”

The friction between the long-time friends eventually turns into a sweaty, breath-stealing, sexually-satisfying friction—until the next day, when Naina realizes what the two have done. Slowly, however, Naina warms to the idea that sex with Baby Prince is rather pleasing. The more the two join forces out of the office, the more their involvement spills into each other’s projects, setting the stage for a series of stunning and memorable conclusions.

Mummie Dearest

Dev’s writing buzzes with emotion and hums with her characters’ determination. Her attention extends to everyone in the Raje Family world, but Dev is particularly compassionate with the fraught relationship between Naina and her mother. Chandni’s English isn’t as “polished” as her contemporaries. She sits on Naina’s last nerve, shows up without warning, and criticizes Naina’s apartment, clothing, and lifestyle.

Dev writes, “If her mother had taught Naina anything, she’d taught her how to show up in uncomfortable situations. Every day.” Naina accepts her mother’s nosy meddling because deep down she senses her mother’s gains and losses with her marriage. 

Alongside the Naina-Vansh storyline is that of his oldest cousin, the ethereal Esha. When award-winning wildlife photographer Sid Dashwood appears, it is apparent their meeting had been authored in the stars. Sadly, their story was secondary; it may have been an interesting fifth book in the series. 

A Story With Sex Appeal

Social issues are integral parts of this series. Through Naina, Dev highlights efforts to give low-income women sustainable lives through microloans, healthcare, and work. Vansh’s project illuminates the need to lift the homeless who have skills to return to society and the workforce. Environmental and conservation issues are front of mind with Siddartha “Sid” Dashwood, India’s brother. 

Naina and Vansh are the most interesting of the characters featured in the series because Dev dives into the deep end of the story’s sex appeal. The fun of The Emma Project is an age-gap slow inferno between the headstrong, take-charge Naina and the younger, peacemaker Vansh. Naina’s transformation from ice queen to lover is like caterpillar to butterfly, and philanthropy has never been so sexy. 

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Jeanne E. Fredriksen

Jeanne E. Fredriksen lives in beautiful Central North Carolina where she is a long-time contributor to India Currents and a long-time Books for Youth reviewer with Booklist magazine/American Library Association....