A story set in the late ’40’s American South all by itself would have been enough to grab my britches, but stir in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice story and my interest rose to a fever-pitch. This was one of those stories that doesn’t easy one in and let them get comfortable. It grasps one by the senses. I laughed, I sighed, I nearly cried, and I had moments of despair and triumph. I absolutely could not put this book down. It was a romance and a re-telling, but it was also so much more.
I felt like it was the story of several women that happen to have romantic entanglements or at least erotic encounters as they find their way clear to their own brand of happiness. Not that the men don’t play good, interesting roles, too, but this was where my mind focused and how it processed the story.
So, I’m going to do a bit of something different with my summary. I’m going to summarize the gals that caught my attention and made me feel oh so many things. Bear with my quirks!
There is Lizzie Bennet, spitfire and non-conformist who has lost her way. She is content with her home on the farm, her family, and her simple life until one Fitzwilliam Darcy jostles her out of her fog and gets her good and angry enough to engage with life again- particularly if it is sparring with the wealthy arrogant, annoying jerk. Just when she starts to heal, her past rears up and shatters more than one person’s happiness.
Next, there is Jane Bennet, oldest and most beautiful of the Bennet sisters. Jane carries a disease in her body that made no promises how long she would live. This puts a death knell on a marriage and children as far as Jane is concerned. Thus it nearly crushes her when she falls for the lively, handsome Charles Bingley who buys Netherfield Plantation because it is close to his construction contracts with the military. Charles is everything she could want in a man and she enjoys their time while knowing there is an expiration date on anything really developing.
Charles’ sister, Caroline accompanies him when he moves to Meryton. She is snobbish and cruel, conniving, and set on having her way. She settles for cheap, tawdry encounters and dreams of a life of wealth to distance her from her dark past. Something is broken inside her and the milk of human kindness just isn’t there. She will do whatever it takes to have Fitzwilliam Darcy, the biggest catch of them all.
Charlotte Lucas, mayor’s daughter and best friend of Lizzie, dreams of escape from her overbearing, sometimes abusive mother who hides a cruel side behind her public face. Charlotte wants out so badly that she latches on to the worst possible man for escape. Lizzie suspects why Charlotte doesn’t even try to find a compatible guy and it breaks her heart for Charlotte’s future chances. Charlotte must walk her own path and hopefully find a ray of happiness in the dark.
And finally, there is Georgiana, William’s sister and a woman before her time because of a youthful mistake in love and in trusting old family friends to have her best interests at heart. She has done her penance and now is emerging into the world shy and terrified that she can’t judge characters and will make another big mistake. It is the misery of her usually taciturn brother and the relapse of her mentally fragile and broken cousin that force her to step up and be there for the men in her life that were always there for her.
So, there were many threads in this story. William and Lizzie had the main roles, but everyone else had some pretty strong secondary parts. I like what the author did with the modernization aspect of characters, setting, and plot. Pride & Prejudice’s tale, characters, and scenes was clearly there while also the offering of something fresh and original.
I liked what the author did with Mr. and Mrs. Bennet along with Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Collins, and Anne deBourgh. Again, I knew them, but yet these characters weren’t pale copies of the originals, but their own vibrant personages. This Collins made the hair stand up on the back of my neck just as this Colonel Fitzwilliam’s pain broke my tender heart. Anne shocked the pants off me, but then it really, really worked and I was in awe of the brilliance. Truthfully, I could go on and on about each characterization because I felt this was where it was at. This and the historical setting. Honestly, I love my romance, but it wasn’t the foremost aspect of the story for me.
The story has an edgier tone and doesn’t apologize for being set in the age it’s in. I’ve not had much truck with the South other than week-long visits from time to time, but from what I’ve observed and heard from others, this background felt authentic.
There were so many other elements in the mix that had their place in this time and place. Jim Crow laws and attitudes, PTSD, women finding their place after the men came back from war, women and children’s recourse when in an abuse situation, what was deemed cause to be institutionalized (shudder) for ‘treatment’, and the aftershocks of the Great Depression among other things.
Probably not the story for people with strong sensibilities to racier romance and activities, taboos like homosexuality, and triggers to child abuse and domestic violence.
As to that racy romance business, for those looking for the payoff of the stormy, sizzling romance full of passion and conflict? This is the book for you. Past hurts, misunderstandings, outside interference, former lovers, and present complications make for a hard fought romance for a few couples, but especially William and Lizzie. That end feeling of hope, triumph, and rightness was so worth what it took to get there.
To wrap it up, this was fantastic. It is a standout read of the year for me. I can easily recommend it to a wider audience range: the Austenesque lover who wants for something grittier and spicier and in a different way, to those who like their historical romance set in the nearer historical eras, and to the women’s fiction fan who enjoys seeing broken characters grow and triumph.
My thanks to Meryton Press for providing the book in exchange for an honest review.