I completely agree with Sharon Lathan’s cover quote on this one because it was Pride and Prejudice meets Gone With the Wind. It completely knocked me right out of the saddle (in a good way). Hard to believe that this was an emerging author’s efforts.
In this Historical Western Romance retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice which mostly takes place post-Civil War era, Elizabeth Bennet and her family hail as staunch Yankees from Ohio who migrate to Texas to start over again on a small farm outside the ranch town of Rosings, Texas. All wish to move on to the fresh start with the exception of Beth. She still mourns the loss of her older brother who went off to war and blames the Southerners for his death. Their family does set down roots and Beth’s sister Jane marries the town doctor while Beth’s closest friend is the Sheriff’s daughter.
Pemberley Ranch just outside of Rosings is owned by William Darcy, former captain of the Confederacy. He lives with his younger sister, Gabrielle and he is smitten almost immediately by the firebrand of a girl, Beth Bennet his new neighbor, that tears across his land on her horse one day. Unfortunately, his awkward shy solicitousness for her safety is taken for arrogance and standoffishness and they part on bad terms only to meet again repeatedly at town functions including Beth’s sister and his best friend’s wedding.
But even if his being a Southerner and arrogant were not enough, Beth soon is given new reasons to dislike Will Darcy when the insidious George Whitehead worms his way into her family’s good graces and starts spreading tales that blacken Darcy’s name. Beth is slightly confused because her new brother in law who is a sweet and gentle man is one of Darcy’s oldest friends. This knowledge isn’t enough to break through her prejudices and even while feeling an attraction for Will, she steadfastly is resolved to think the worst of him.
George Whitehead is a Yankee and a government appointee working with a judge, a banker, a gang of gunfighters and the other powerful landowner in the area on a scheme to make them all rich.
What no one realizes is that he has secret plans of his own. Only Darcy and some smaller owners and mortgagers stand in their way. Darcy knows that Whitehead is evil because of their former association during the war, but he stays quietly watchful because no one would believe the charming George Whitehead capable of wrongdoing not to mention Whitehead is placed in a position of authority with all the carpetbagger government might behind him.
While the story bears delightful resemblance to the classic original and the characters are easily recognizable, the plot and characters have several surprises in store. The feel of the story is raw and gritty with the Old West frontier flavor to it. Being familiar with the original plot does not mean that I found this retelling boring because there was so much new going on that I couldn’t anticipate things. The grand finale was an exciting thing of beauty with Winchesters blazing in a last stand life and death battle that would make any western novel proud.
Characters were all altered to suit this plot. I was able to recognize favorites from the original, but also saw them as new creations too. I love this new Will Darcy whom I think that I admire almost more than his namesake (sacrilege to admit that I know) because he has gone through so much worse and come out of it the best of men. Now this Beth does have a slightly better excuse for her resentment (death of brother), but not how she chose to let it govern her. She’s almost comical in her willful blindness to assign the worst possible constructs and motives to everything Darcy says and does. She redeems herself when she owns to everything and sets out to make it right.
The historical backdrop was authentic in feel for that post-war era with the language and culture of the story feeling spot on without bogging down the plot with too much historic detail.
I do wish to prepare any Jane Austen Austenesque lovers who are taking a look at this story that this is not a genteel tea-drinking retelling and to be prepared for raw frontier life that is depicted.
So for those who love a good historical western romance or a story retelling Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, I can heartily recommend this book.