Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston – A Review

Unequal Affections, by Lara S. Ormiston (2014)From the desk of Laurel Ann Nattress:

Have you ever read a book that culminated in such a passionate love/hate relationship that you were compelled to read it again to understand what it was that evoked such a profound reaction? I have. Like failed love affairs, I can remember each of them without hesitation: Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D’Urberville’s, Mansfield Park, The Wings of a Dove and Anna Karenina. I am now adding Unequal Affections to my “bus accident” list.

While some may foresee this question as a polite warning of a negative review lurking in the shrubberies, I have no wish to influence you either way—yet—but rather keep you in suspense, “according to the usual practice of elegant females.” Bus accidents are terrible, tragic, things, and terribly hard to look way from.

This Pride and Prejudice “what if” starts out one third of the way into the original novel at the pivotal moment when Mr. Darcy proposes to our heroine Elizabeth Bennet. This scene contains some of Jane Austen’s most brilliant dialogue revealing two protagonists so totally at odds with each other that we cannot see how they could possibly end up as a loving couple by the end of the novel. Mr. Darcy begins…“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.” He then proceeds to explain how he loves her against his will, against his reason, and even against his character. Insulted by his prejudice against her family, appalled by his injustice towards Mr. Wickham and angered by his part in separating her sister Jane from Mr. Bingley, she finalizes her refusal by proclaiming that he was “the last man in the world whom [she] could ever be prevailed on to marry.”

While Austen sets up the moral and romantic conflict firmly, Ormiston chooses an even more challenging path. Her Elizabeth has not made previous declarations about marrying only for love or exhibited her strength of mind by refusing the proposal of the odious Mr. Collins. The reader only knows her Elizabeth from this proposal scene forward. Though her Lizzy does not like Mr. Darcy any more than Austen’s, she will consider marrying without affection for the benefit of her family and chooses to delay her reply by asking for time to consider his offer. We now have an optimistic Darcy following her back to London where she is staying with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Under pressure Elizabeth seeks the counsel of her aunt who of course points out the pros and cons of the alliance. Within two weeks she accepts his proposal. Darcy is ecstatic. Elizabeth is resolved. She will be the mistress of a grand estate and the wife of a proud and arrogant man. Can she learn to love him, and will her love humble him?

The majority of the narrative now unfolds back at Longbourn, her home in Hertfordshire. Darcy takes up residence nearby at his friend Bingley’s estate of Netherfield and visits Elizabeth under the close observation of the Bennet family, whose members he abhors. If anything will test his love, his resolve, and his willingness to change, it will be one month in the Bennet household. Each of the family members has their turn: Mrs. Bennet with her endless prattle, Mr. Bennet with his lack of guiding presence, Mary with her sermonizing, and Kitty and Lydia with their dangerous fixation on officers, resulting in a family conflict that may fracture his desire to marry Elizabeth forever.

Pride and Prejudice “what if’s” have dominated Austenesque sequels for the past several years. Starting with established characters and plot, they take a left turn in a new direction allowing for an intriguing fantasy. Readers of Austen’s classic can now experience beloved characters faced with new impediments before they earn their happily-ever-after. If you are comfortable with change, creativity and the possibility that they may act outside of Austen’s sphere, I highly recommend them.

Because there are now so many authors writing in this sub-genre, be prepared for crossover plots. They are inevitable, and readers who know of Abigail Reynolds’, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy: Last Man in the World, will be concerned that Unequal Affections may have been influenced by this novel. Be not alarmed, madam, on receiving this warning, “by the apprehension of its containing any repetition of those sentiments.” While the premise and launching point are identical, the remainder of the plot is wholly unconnected.

I was duly impressed with Ormiston’s command of Regency-era language and social context. They are her strongest accomplishments. She builds solid, endearing characterizations revealing an acute understanding of Austen’s characters. Some readers will be happy to know that the romantic tension was held in suspense almost until the last page. While I commend her extensive vocabulary, I found her pacing off. Scenes were too long at some points slowing down my interest, and her choice to play out two thirds of the book in the Bennet’s drawing room became as painful to Darcy as it did for me. As a debut novelist she shows bright promise that will develop with time and guidance.

Complex, intriguing and romantic, Unequal Affections will be one of those novels that you must read more than once to fully understand why it is so compelling. There are certain parts that will annoy you and others that will compel you to continue. Exhibiting these dualities is what makes for memorable fiction. You won’t forget this one for a long time.

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston
Skyhorse Publishing (2014)
Hardcover (352) pages
ISBN: 978-1626361003

Cover image courtesy of Skyhorse Publishing © 2014; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2014, Austenprose.com 

Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

12 thoughts on “Unequal Affections: A Pride and Prejudice Retelling, by Lara S. Ormiston – A Review

  1. I so agree with your review! I have now read this variation three times and each time I finished it I think to myself “What just happened? Why am I so affected by this?” I was equally as annoyed by the amount of scenes in the actual Bennet household until I realized that it felt foreign to me because Austen has the majority of Elizabeth and Darcy’s interactions elsewhere (be it Netherfield, Kent, Derbyshire, etc). Anyway, thank you for your thoughtful commentary – great review!

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  2. Great review Laurel Ann, I’ve had my eye on this for a while but I am waivering at the price even the Ebook is pricy. I was recommend it by a friend you said it was introspective which is appealing and your last line “You won’t forget this one for a long time.” Is starting to break my resolve to wait for a price drop!

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    • Tamara, I was put off by the price too. It is unfortunately too high even in digital and was fired up to tell the publicist who sent me my review copy so, until I had second thoughts about over-stepping my position. While I select what we read and review here I have learned to concentrate on the content and remain silent on ugly covers art and over priced eBooks. If you skim through the Amazon reviews, I do believe that a few others had reservations about the price too, but felt it was worth it after reading it. With so many positive reviews posted online I doubt they will lower the price for quite some time, so you might just have to get it from the library and be patient on the digital price.

      I think Ormiston is the brightest new talent in Austenesque in several years.

      Thanks for your comments. LA

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  3. I read this when it was posting on an online site and thought it was one of the very best stories I’d ever read. It sparked a TON of conversation and debates on the site and that in itself was great fun. I agree with what you’ve stated – it’s definitely frustrating and introspective and will make you feel jumbledy, especially reading it all at once instead of spreading it over several weeks as I did. I love her stories, I think she’s brilliant; however I do agree that the ebook is too pricy.

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  4. I have a feeling I read it online too. It has such good reviews, but I’m the same as lots of other people, the price is pretty steep for a novel, so I daresay it’ll stay on my wishlist a while longer. I’m never short on reading material!

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  5. Thank you so much for writing this review, Laurel Ann! I had only the day or so before gone looking on your website and some others for a review, as I had just finished reading Lara Ormiston’s book and thought it one of the best if not THE best re-imaginings of P&P I’ve read! I felt she accurately depicted all the characters, and appreciated the chance to go through the pain and struggle along with Darcy and Elizabeth as they finally reach a true understanding, appreciation, and passionate regard for each other! Of course, Darcy already loved her, but he still did not fully know and appreciate what she really was, and through the painful interaction with her and her family and neighbors, he grew in his own character as he better understood what she really was! I loved it!

    I hope it is alright, but I wanted to include an excerpt from early in the novel that I absolutely loved… Mr. Darcy has given Elizabeth a lovely pearl necklace of great value as an engagement gift, and she is feeling very guilty in accepting it….

    “That night Elizabeth sat before the dresser in the room she shared with Jane and stared at the glowing string of pearls in their case before her. “Oh Jane, Jane,” she said to her sister, who was brushing her hair on the bed, “I feel so wretchedly guilty!”
    “But why?”
    “Because of those!” She gestured toward the necklace. …. “the moment I saw those pearls, I knew…. I have become perfectly mercenary in my own sight, and I cannot bear it.”
    Jane responds, “Lizzy!” … that is not fair of you. You did not accept Mr. Darcy so that he would give you jewels. You know you did not!”
    “What use is it of me to think that when I have these around my neck? If I loved him—if I truly esteemed him for nothing but his own merit—then it would not trouble my conscience to accept such gifts, but as it is, it seems wrong. I did not accept Mr. Darcy ONLY because he was rich, but if he had NOT been rich, would I have considered him? Would I have thought my dislike worth overcoming just for the sake of his handsome face and intelligent mind? I think not, Jane, I think not.”
    “You were considering your family: the welfare of your mother and sisters. That is honorable, dearest. And Mr. Darcy knows that you do not love him as he does you; you have practiced no deception.”
    “Oh, but I have practiced no particular truth either! I wonder what he would have said if he had known what my opinion of him really was when he proposed? If I had said, ‘Mr. Darcy, until today I have never liked you, and in fact have long considered you the proudest, most disagreeable man of my acquaintance, besides suspecting you of dishonorable misdeeds toward a friend of mine, but because you are not stupider than I am, and because you are so very rich and I and my family may someday be so very poor—because of all these things I will marry you and endeavor to like you, although I am not altogether certain if that shall be possible’—? If I had said all that to him that day, do you really believe he would have wished to marry me still?”
    …. end of quote…
    Sigh! It is a wonderful if emotional few weeks to bring the HEA so richly earned! :-) I highly recommend it!!

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