This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
I’ve had my eye on this one since I saw a blog review for it some time ago. I was happy as a lark when I was offered it for review. Huzzah! Erm, um, I mean, sure I would be happy to read and review this book. Haha!
As a big Jane Austen and Austenesque fan, I adore reading creative variations on stories about Jane Austen or her characters. In the case of this book, it is a Pride & Prejudice variation. I know lots of people prefer their JAFF and Austenesque work close to the original telling or characters. If that is you? This story probably isn’t for you because it takes off in an entirely different direction from the original. Character names, places and some events will be recognizable, but that’s it. This was a delightful deviation and a creative page turning story in its own right. It gives a nod toward the gothic doomed love affairs of the day with a sinister, mad villain, a tragic hero, a Perilous Pauline heroine, and a vast array of secondary characters to fill out the cast. It is a hefty story with a vast deal going on to keep the reader entertained with more than one plot thread. Honestly, some of the side stories were as engaging as that of the main couple.
The story assumes the reader is at least slightly familiar with the original Pride & Prejudice story though it’s not absolutely necessary that the read had read or watched it. To give a starting point to those that are familiar, it begins about two years after a disastrous wedding proposal scene at Hunsford when the heroine rejects the hero utterly and completely. Darcy arrogantly and confidently thought Elizabeth would not only welcome his proposal, but look on it as a godsend since she came from lower gentry stock and he was wealthy with aristocratic bloodline. Yeah, no, not so much! She wasn’t impressed and sent him off smartly. Darcy is devastated and leaves everything behind for two years trying to get over his misplaced love meanwhile those back home don’t live in a vacuum.
Darcy returns to find a sister so happy to have him back and worried about his emotional state that she is matchmaking in earnest for him with her husband’s sister. He discovers that his friend Charles Bingley married the sister of the woman he loved and hoped to marry, but Charles is desperate for his help with some matter. Darcy’s cousin Anne was importuned by a scoundrel. And he truly believes he is ready to move on and that Elizabeth is firmly in his past. Ha! No, not hardly. But it takes a half-lie to bring him to his senses before he settles for the wrong woman.
Charles and Jane have been hiding her broken sister who went through such trauma that now she doesn’t speak, doesn’t seem to be a part of reality, has violent reactions to certain triggers and has a habit of escaping so that the people of Meryton are convinced a ghost walks among them. Elizabeth was betrayed by her own mother and given to a man she despised who ran her to Gretna Green and treated her abominably before she was thought to have died in a fire that consumed the home he held her prisoner in. The Count would come after her if he thought his wife lived and her mother would return her to him so the Bingleys hide her. They know it is only a matter of time before she is discovered and she is too much for them in her current condition so they form a scheme to appeal to a man they suspect loves Lizzy.
Darcy comes up to scratch and takes on the task of hiding his beloved Elizabeth and working to restore her mind. It is arduous and hard on him. He knows that if even a part of the truth is discovered that both their reputations and place in society will be done for, but he has a second chance with the woman he loves and he’s taking it.
Meanwhile, scheming women, well-meaning family, greedy villains and despair for Elizabeth’s recovery keep Darcy busy enough not worry about a little thing like reputation. It takes the support of his true friends and some luck to save him and Elizabeth from the trouble circling. But in the end, he wonders if she can accept that he has changed and can they both accept their new situation since she is still a married woman.
As I mentioned before, this is an exciting and venturesome take on the characters. There is a lot of drama, intense build up and exciting moments that kept me preoccupied. Several plot threads were part of this book and multiple narrators though Darcy was the most prominent. The historical backdrop is good and stretches from country estates and rural social life to the glittering ballrooms of London society. The pacing varied so that sometimes it just flew along and other times it meandered. I enjoyed both the tense scenes wondering how the hero or heroine would get through something and the scenes that gave a snapshot of family life, time with friends or romantic development.
This story was not shallow, but it was a bit thin on character development. Characters tended to be a strong version of whomever or whatever they were though I do think Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, who was a favorite for me, had some moments of growth as she worked through her feelings about Elizabeth being in her brother’s life and letting her brother live his life without interference even though she means well.
I suppose this wasn’t meant to be like this, but I kept thinking that Darcy is a bit of a rock star of the day. It was hilarious that he could walk into a ballroom and every woman, married or single, old or young was ready to swoon or toss their knickers at him. How could Lizzy resist this hunk of irresistible man, right? The scheming women after Darcy do take up a vast deal of the story, but since I found it amusing I went with it.
Darcy is the romantic figure. He screwed up when he got all high and mighty with the woman he loved, then he tries to forget her assuming that she will never change her mind, then he makes a huge sacrifice to have her with him even if she is a broken shadowy version of the woman she once was. He acted arrogant with Elizabeth before this book picked up the story, but the Darcy of the story is a changed man. He’s actually pretty shy and sensitive so that it is painful to him to be an object to the women who notice him for his looks and wealth. His cousin, Richard, and his brother in law and Charles Bingley are his friends and they see the real Darcy. Richard isn’t above harassing him about it all, but he totally had Darcy’s back through the whole story and I loved it.
Madness was also a theme. Elizabeth was temporarily in a state of madness as a result of head trauma and long-term abuse and the fiend that married her, The Count, is most definitely mad. Oh and hey, some of the Darcy fan-club of women might have gone a bit mad too. I’ve read what it was like for those considered mad back then and the conditions of places like Bedlam so it’s a very serious and dangerous thing to be considered mad. So the fact that first Charles and Jane and then Darcy, hide Lizzy and try to get her help in private is a huge deal. The thing about women of that time being the property of their husbands and having little independence was also a factor in why they were so keen to keep her away from The Count or from the knowledge of Society. Parents could push their children into horrific arranged marriage situations (I felt so sorry for Richard’s elder siblings that had sad marriages). Guys back then could beat their wives black and blue and this was not a crime by law and few saw it as a moral crime either (okay some did, but not enough). Definitely makes one grateful to live in the times we do.
Of all the characters, Lizzy is probably the one I least connected with though I don’t mean this to say that I didn’t connect at all or hated her. I am totally sympathetic to what happened to her as a result of a horrid mother and a villain. She experienced so much and it was no wonder that she retreated inside her head. But she is also the type of heroine that is always in need of rescue (by no fault of her own to be sure). She isn’t a stupid heroine that rushes headlong into danger without thought, but she is the type that stuff happens to her making her reactive instead of proactive most of the time. Her big moments tended to be the ‘I must leave because I’m a trouble magnet and I don’t want to bring it all down on my friends’ with the exception of her gumption during the climax to actually save Darcy’s life. And because of the direction of the plot, I’d have to agree with her there, but I do wish to have seen some of the fire that made Darcy love her in the first place.
The strong thread of family and tight-knit friendship was most welcome. I loved the interwoven stories of Evan and Georgiana, Charles and Jane, Richard and the rest of the Fitzwilliams, the servants and even the obvious opposites like Caroline, Mrs. Preston and a few others of the women. Darcy and Lizzy are surrounded by others going about their lives and the romance isn’t told in isolation. This was a nice strong point. In fact, this book has the longest denouement that I’ve ever read I think as it gives a lot about what happens after the Happily Ever After.
So, I had a really good time with this one and look forward to more from the author. I would definitely recommend it to Austenesque fans who don’t mind strong deviations from the original and also to Historical Romance lovers who enjoy a pinch of spice and drama to their reading experience.
My thanks to the author for providing a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.