Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys, Volume 7), by Marsha Altman – A Review

Young Mr Darcy in Love by Marsha Altman (2013)From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

“Geoffrey Darcy considered himself a reasonable person. He was calm and patient, and not given to impulse. His father had taught him that, and he tried his best to keep his first reaction in check and judge the situation dispassionately. The last few weeks, however, he had been devouring the post. It wasn’t worth his time to deny that each time he saw her handwriting and return address on the envelope he smiled. [Today] was such a day…when the mail arrived, Geoffrey jumped at the announcement.” 

The problem with long-distance love is that it’s…well, long-distance. One partner is there, the other here, each living a life separate from the other and receiving only from letters all the affection and tenderness that passes between two lovers. Some people can do it, and others can’t, but the time in history where Young Mr. Darcy in Love is set was more attuned to those who could. Boys went there, girls stayed here. One was in Ireland, the other in London, then Brighton, then Eton — it’s a wonder ladies and gents were able to cultivate relationships at all!  But if you could figure it out, if you could keep him interested via post with all your aimless musings, boy oh boy, you’d hit the jackpot! Romantic letters from a romantic boyfriend? How romantic!

We wish. If you’ve been following Marsha Altman’s epic six-volume tale of life after Elizabeth and Darcy became Mr. and Mrs., you already know that Geoffrey (Darcy Jr, or the ‘young Darcy’ of our tale) and Georgiana, the Jane and Charles’ oldest girl, have been flirting for a while now. They’ve grown up shoulder to shoulder, been through the ups and downs of family life; even seen one another through more than a few major mixups. It’s a match, for sure(ish), but a regrettably long-distance one. In this seventh installment, Geoffrey has packed up and moved to school, a world of mumbling professors and demanding tutors, but Georgie has stayed home to perfect her not-so-girlish pursuits so the couple must turn to letters to get things moving. And very unfortunately for Geoffrey, Georgie’s unconventional life doesn’t leave much time for letter writing, and he is forced to console himself with short, silly notes that completely disguise her real feelings. Will she finally, after six books worth of foreplay, marry him? Will he have enough patience to wait it out?

The subplots of Marsha’s story circle nicely around this core issue, some cleverly derailing the Geoffrey/Georgie plans and others reinstating them, chapter by chapter. Will they or won’t they?  There seem to be a lot of reasons why not — both families are seemingly in a race to see how many disasters each of them can field before turning to round-the-clock scotch consumption.  Darcy is losin’ it with worry over his first daughter reaching the age of marriageability while Elizabeth is laughing into her sleeve. Geoffrey and Dr. Maddox both have serious physical maladies. Georgie is consistently covered with bruises and assuaging her mother’s apprehension with quippy remarks. Again. George the Younger, Frederick, and Charles the Other Younger are all giving college the ‘ol college try with mixed results. Brian Maddox has an embarrassing legal encounter with the King of England and Charles Bingley is, as usually, totally fine, even when he probably shouldn’t be. It’s a crazy world for this clan, necessitating trips back and forth to Ireland, Darcy-style financial interventions, and more than a few flips to the family tree cheater page at the front of the book to find out…wait…who’s doing what with whom again? Was that the same guy as before? Crazy!

Altman’s dialogue is as snappy as you’ve come to expect, her research as thorough as it had been in the previous novels, but this time her pacing was a bit wibbly and some sections were zipped through rather hastily. The problem gets worse as the story nears its end, and this compounded with gratingly provincial sexuality and the excessive display of Georgie’s character flaws left me slightly wanting for quality, the kind seen in her earlier works. However, the seventh installment expediently confers upon the reader a grand sense of scope, the huge expanse of this universe, and the thoughtfulness and dazzling efforts of its creator. The book is worth the effort, especially if you’ve been a series devotee until now, so pick it up and see…will Geoffrey and Georgie finally make it official?

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Young Mr. Darcy in Love: Pride and Prejudice Continues (The Darcys and the Bingleys, Volume 7), by Marsha Altman
CreateSpace (2013)
Trade paperback (642) pages
ISBN: 978-1490593708

Cover image courtesy of Laughing Man Publications © 2013; text Shelley DeWees © 2013, Austenprose.com

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins – A Review

Jane Austens England, by Lesley and Roy Adkins (2013)From the desk of Shelley DeWees:

“In her novels Jane Austen brilliantly portrayed the lives of the middle and upper classes, but barely mentioned the cast of characters who constituted the bulk of the population. It would be left to the genius of the next generation, Charles Dickens, to write novels about the poor, the workers and the lower middle classes. His novel A Tale of Two Cities starts with celebrated words: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’ This is a succinct summary of Jane Austen’s England, on which we are about to eavesdrop.” p. xxvi

You’ve been warned. Should you wish to maintain the sanctity of your internal imagery of Jane Austen, turn back now, before you step into the not-so-forgiving light of real history. Do thoughts of frocks and frolicking and tea cakes and rainbows seen through the thin gauze of parasols really blow your skirt up? Wishing you could be amongst the ladies and gents of an Austen ball? Hoping against hope that somehow, magically, you could be transported into Jane’s idyllic agrarian life? Jane Austen’s England, in all its cool clarity and detail, is probably not where you should look for inspiration, and may in fact leave you reeling; your perfect imaginary life forever ruined! The humanity of it!

But if you’re still with me (and I hope you are), prepare yourself for an eye-opening journey, most especially if this is your first foray into the real daily experiences of English Austen life. You’re in for more than a few surprises. Those who have already dabbled in history will find themselves going, “Huh! Really?” often enough, too! Don’t believe me? Behold the following snippets that stupefied me, an Austen lover well versed in the ways of history who, even still, wasn’t at all prepared:

  1. Able-bodied men were constantly worried about being forced to join the Royal Navy. Many thousands were dragged out of their lodgings and off the streets, fitted for a uniform, and directed toward the nearest ship despite having foreign citizenship and the passports to prove it. A rude way to wake up indeed, and ruder still if you found yourself fighting against your own country. Score one for England!
  2. Jane Austen’s visits to her brother’s fashionable London apartment took place only blocks away from unspeakable squalor. Traveling there, she would have undoubtedly passed at least a few decomposing corpses strung up alongside the road as a warning to criminals. Seeing as how death was the penalty for almost every crime, even trivial ones, sights such as these were commonplace but probably still fairly distracting.
  3. In an effort to free the local parish from the unwanted costs of raising illegitimate children, the pregnant woman was compelled, under the Bastardy Act (giggles!) of 1733, to name the father of her child, who then had the choice to either pay the church for the upkeep of the kid or to go to jail. Barring the ability or desire to do one of those things, he could choose to marry the lady, or run away. A perfect beginning to a perfect marriage, it would seem. Extremely desirable, right?

Candles smelled like the slaughterhouse, income gaps between rich and poor were ridiculous, and medical staff were almost hysterical in their ineptitude. But, all of this is ignored in Jane’s masterpieces, swept under the rug along with the burned remains of last year’s dress that, oops, accidentally set on fire (small price to pay for sitting in the part of the room with a temperature above 30 degrees, because seriously, that corner over there is literally frozen). Austen’s works were created by a lovely lady who, despite her apparent grace, must’ve been stinky beyond all comprehension. And even though it hurts to say it, she probably, just like the rest of her monied comrades, possessed an excessive amount of free time and thus, led an epically idle lifestyle. I suppose it’s no great astonishment that she chose to leave that kind of information out.

Oh, it stings, but it stings so good. While this beautiful, impeccably-researched volume will rob you of your fancies, it leaves in their place a much more interesting and dynamic picture of Austen’s life and times. Never will you have more appreciation for Jane until you fully understand the world she occupied while spinning peaceful, blissful tales of country life, tales that always, somehow, end just the way they’re supposed to despite being outlined on a napkin in the back of a filthy carriage, squelching through 3 inches of mud. Jane Austen’s England is the first book to address the daily lives of Austen’s contemporaries, stocked full of interesting facts and firsthand accounts (those of governess Nelly Weeton are particularly intriguing). The considerable skills of Mr. and Mrs. Adkins have never been put to better use, something which will become obvious after you stroll brightly from cradle to grave through marriage, child-rearing, fashions and filth, sermons and superstitions, and wealth and work. You’ll be clinging to your wool socks and smartphone like never before. Also, inquisitive researchers and flippant dabblers alike will find lots of goodies lingering in the back pages: a chronological overview, chapter-by-chapter notes, a full index, and a dazzling bibliography all await.

So pull up your petticoats and start trudging through the mess, because the real world is truly an amazing place, even more amazing that Jane Austen was a part of it all. Jane Austen’s England will leave you dumbfounded! And for those of you who fear the lamentable loss of your Regency idealism, don’t worry, there’s always Colin Firth.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Jane Austen’s England, by Roy and Lesley Adkins
The Viking Press (2013)
Hardcover (448) pages
ISBN: 978-0670785841

Cover image courtesy of The Viking Press © 2013; text Shelley DeWees © 2013, Austenprose.com

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen Wasylowski – A Review

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowki (2012)From the desk of Shelley DeWees

Care for a slice of dialogue?  I promise that you’ll find it irresistibly juicy, bursting to the seams with wit and character.  This is Karen Wasylowski’s work, after all, and you may still have the lingering juices from her first book Darcy and Fitzwilliam on your tongue.  It tasted like Pride and Prejudice, but more tangy, more modern, more real (if you haven’t read it, you should, posthaste).  This is totally worth the indulgence.  Go ahead.  Live a little.

Just then the door opened and in walked Fitzwilliam Darcy.

            “Darcy!  It’s about time you arrived!”

            “Wonderful to see you as well, Fitz.”  Darcy then turned to O’Malley.  “Hello, Patrick.  Good to see you, how is Mrs. O’Malley?”

            “Grand, sir.  Just grand, and, I thank you for askin’.  She’s got a proper cap to wear now she does, enjoys bossin’ around her new maid.”

            Fitzwilliam slammed a cup down to kill a roach.

            “Excellent news, and well deserved I might add.  And the boys?  Getting quite tall I’ll warrant.”

            “Growin’ like weeds, they are, another on the way and, again, so good of you to inquire.”  Patrick swept away the dead bug with his hand then wiped his hand on his trousers.

            “My, aren’t you two delightful?  A regular Tristan and Isolde without all that lovely prose to distract the mind.  Well, as much as I hate to break up this heartwarming tableau I’m famished and you’re nearly a quarter hour late, Darcy.”

            “And you’re in a foul mood.  Has he been like this all day, Patrick?”

            “Naw.  Most time, he’s worse.”  Patrick then turned and left before he was sacked once again.

Brazen, boyish Fitzwilliam stands in stark contrast to his upstanding cousin, Darcy of Pemberley, of Pride and Prejudice, of the deepest wanderings of all your Colin-Firth-look-a-like fantasies of fiction male stardom.  Next to a man like that, Fitzwilliam appears undignified, unmannered, even silly — totally real.  Fitzwilliam isn’t like other male characters in Austen and Austenesque literature, because he isn’t a courtly, noble person yet remains on the side of good.  He’s as unlikely to hurt someone as Georgiana Darcy, and far more apt to offer you a toast of health and good cheer.  Sure, he’s doing it with a foul mouth and an attitude fit for a brothel, but who cares?  Charming and enthusiastic, Fitzwilliam is a breath of fresh air.  Darcy is…well, Darcy.  All that you love of him, and more, but unsurprisingly nice.  His stately, composed personality makes up for all of Fitzwilliam’s shortcomings, which is perhaps why the two make such a wondrous pair in Sons and Daughters, the second installment in the series from Karen Wasylowski.

The early portions of the story find Darcy doing his Darcy thing, wandering around his lovely homes and out into London to meet people and talk about stuff.  He pays his bills, meets his solicitors, goes “on up to Parliament” and around to see his deliciously-styled Aunt Catherine who is fabulously, unapologetically drunk on “medicinal liquid” most of the time.  I can’t help but see Judi Dench and a big pile of frosted grey hair, but what’s better than that?  Nothing.  Nothing is better than Lady Catherine de Bourgh, especially as seen through the brilliant character depiction that Karen Wasylowski employs.  Fitzwilliam is another one of these creations, though he finds himself with much less time on his hands.  As the Surveyor General, he is busy and overtaxed (hence the snarky attitude) but still manages to find time to hang out with his wife and family.

And believe me, that includes plenty of people.  Darcy and lovely Elizabeth (who remains a back-burner voice in this interpretation — don’t be surprised) have a respectable number of offspring with a respectable, quiet life and a respectable, quiet group of helpers around them.  Their kids are sweet, generous, and well-spoken.  But of course, Fitzwilliam’s brood stands in contrast, both in numbers and in personalities.  While Darcy’s children are playing the pianoforte and researching Chinese history, Fitz’s are monkeying around like hoodlums, dropping bags of flour from 3rd-story windows, sliding down banisters, and causing their parents untold amounts of torment.  It goes so far that by the end of the book, I determined that Fitz and Amanda are bloody bad parents.

But remember, this is Karen Wasylowski’s work.  She’s the master of modern Austen, unafraid to throw in little gems and goodies like these.  The faults of the parents become the faults of the children in the real world, and such is the case here.  You’ll find yourself stunned at the lack of discipline and responsibility from Amanda and Fitz’s crazy children, the end of the book exploding with the bad behavior and carelessness that only ungoverned children can enact (now that they’re grown, you see, the cracks in their foundations really begin to show).

It’s a refreshing ride through Austen territory, but not your typical trip at all.  You’ll find bits of tradition, sure, but I found myself scratching my head at their placement, almost like they were included as a token gesture to those who search for them.  Everyone seems to live the same life over and over, cooling in passions and slackening in pursuits as the years mount, forcing the narrative to focus on the offspring simply to find something interesting again!  This tiresome path simply didn’t fit alongside the edgy, flashy prose.  However, I was consistently kept afloat by Ms. Wasylowski’s excellent skill as a writer.  She is a gifted storyteller with exceptional talent, especially with character development.  Sons and Daughters won’t leave you wanting!  Saddle up and don’t forget your boots!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sons and Daughters: Darcy and Fitzwilliam Book Two, by Karen V. Wasylowski
CreateSpace (2012)
Trade paperback (416) pages
ISBN: 978-1480002913

© 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

The Knights of Derbyshire: Pride and Prejudice Continues, by Marsha Altman – A Review

Knights of Derbyshire, by Marsha Altman (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

Tell me.  Do you think this sounds like a Jane Austen novel?

“Gawain!” he screamed as he pulled himself free at the sound of his dog’s cry.  From the corner of his eye, he could see his assailant grab the other man’s cane out from under him and raise it to strike, but that did not register until the blow came down, fast and hard on the man’s head, and he still had not reached his dog.  Somewhere between the slam of wood into his own temple and the completion of his fall backwards he saw it all – the limping dog running off, the men shouting, one grabbing the wall for support.  It all became a haze as Gawain disappeared from his vision entirely.  “Go,” he whispered, and hit the ground.  The shock of it was too much for his head to take, and everything went black.

Or how about this?  Jane Austen?

Jane was already gone when he rose that winter morning.  With nothing pressing on his schedule while his business partner was abroad, he yawned luxuriously and washed his face before thinking about preparing for the day.  He was still toweling his face when he heard the scream. 

Perhaps.  Perhaps it was Jane Austen’s tormented twin whose dreams bubbled to the surface unbridled, unrestricted, and unbelievable—maybe writing them down was an exercise in sanity.  Perhaps this is what Jane Austen would’ve written if she lived next door to Sherlock Holmes.  Who knows?

In all reality, The Knights of Derbyshire is Marsha Altman’s work, fantastic and engaging, so one can only assume that she is either channeling Jane Austen’s thrilling parallel universe, or we’ve got a seriously talented writer on our hands (or both).  Those looking for a tea-and-crumpets kind of read, one dripping with “my my, your fine eyes are positively beguiling” or any phrase that might bring to mind “well ma’am, I’m just so charmingly befuddled” should look elsewhere.  Altman’s Austen doesn’t exist as a world away from our own, floating up in the sky, untouched by troubles, unmoved by reality.  Rather, it is chock full of stimulating dilemmas both modern and historical, brimming with questions about trust and mistrust, family, money, and conformity into societal norms.  A perfect world?  No.  A living world it is, dear readers!  Altman has superimposed real-world life onto Austen’s characters and settings, seamlessly and with spectacular results!  Are you ready?!

The fifth book in her series The Darcys and the Bingleys, The Knights of Derbyshire finds Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth, Jane, and Charles in their late thirties and forties, hurdling toward old age as the elderly Mr. Bennet hangs on, his body giving into the time but his mind staying sharp as a knife.  Their mess of children has grown up through the past four books and is now about to go out into the world for themselves, a new generation raised on Bingley cheer and Darcy-ish smirks and winks.  And what a world they’re walking into!  There may be peace on the shores of France but England has begun to roil with disorder and chaos as many of the lower people begin to revolt against aristocracy.  Geoffrey (heir to Pemberley, with all its rights and privileges), George (son of nasty Mr. Wickham and the now-remarried Lydia), and Georgiana (oldest daughter to Charles and Jane Bingley) lead the plot of this moving tale while the older, wiser characters take a back seat.  But you won’t miss their presence because just like any good parent, they come in when they’re needed, when times get desperate, when the occasion calls for it…and it will.  Disaster comes to Pemberley, and not the kind that can be soothed by taking some air.  I have no wish to spoil it for you, but I will say that this predicament requires help from abroad, Darcy’s checkbook, Elizabeth’s cunning, Georgiana’s considerable fighting skills, and many many, many swigs of bravery-inducing whiskey.

Altman’s style, even while tackling these challenging issues, still manages to remain light-hearted, funny, even silly at times, so don’t for one second think you’ll frown your way through this delightful read!  The Austen folks are alive and thriving, and what’s better than that?  Her prose is elegant yet unpretentious, just as you expected, and she has an amazing way of taking the original characters to new, modern heights without compromising their integrity as Austen creations.  This is real life, baby, with an Austen undercurrent.  The Knights of Derbyshire won’t disappoint!

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Knights of Derbyshire: Pride and Prejudice Continues (Volume 5), by Marsha Altman
Laughing Man Publications (2012)
Trade paperback (406) pages
ISBN: 978-0979564536

© 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Glamour in Glass, Mary Robinette Kowal (2012)Review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Accustomed as she was to the more retiring life on her father’s estate, Jane had not looked for any honors when she married Mr. Vincent.  The few months of their marriage had been filled with work and the joy of learning to shape their lives together.”

It’s a sequel!  To Shades of Milk and Honey!  Are you excited?  After the resounding success of that, Mary Robinette Kowal’s first book, you probably should be.  But beware as you peruse this, gentle readers, for I have written it under the assumption that you’ve read and enjoyed the lovely first novel.  Spoilers abound!

The end of Shades of Milk and Honey brought an explosive duel, the victory of a suitor, and, as all Regency-era novels tend to do, a wedding.  Vincent and Jane are as happy as they’ve ever been, enjoying life not only as a romantic pair, gazing into each other’s eyes and invoking pet names at every opportunity, but also as a creative partnership.  They effectively go into business together as England’s Best Glamourists and are swiftly snapped up by the Prince Regent and his cohort.  Jane soon finds herself rubbing elbows with the aristocracy, and feels a certain apprehension at the new attention.  Any mistake in her creations now affect her partnership, her place in the world…everything!  Needless to say, she’s always the first one to leave the party and go upstairs.

Not that she’s unproductive.  Much of the story is taken up by the discovery and implementation of Jane’s transport theories for magic, something she discovers by accident as she’s bouncing around Belgium on a working vacation/honeymoon.  She explores, experiments, figures a few interesting things out…a few, uh, remarkable surprises.  One is highly predictable.  One is not.  Another is utterly absurd. Blowing the cover on all of them now would be unkind, suffice to say that Jane’s life is again thrown into turmoil and she’s forced to call upon all her knowledge and expertise (and call in a few favors) to get everything to settle down again.

All of this is superimposed over Ms. Kowal’s elegant magic system, “glamour” as she calls it.  Using the language of textiles, glamourists pull sheets and strands of glamour out of the “ether” and manipulate them in the way a master weaver would.  Folding, braiding, knotting, and tying-off are all common acts with glamour, but it’s in the doing where creativity and deftness of hand where Jane really shines.  She’s totally devoted to her craft, her confidence having grown exponentially as she took her first timid steps away from her father’s home.  Yes, it’s a lovely arrangement, yet it still remains as mysterious and under-explained as it was in Shades of Milk and Honey.  The only moderate salvation to the magic-curious people who take up Glamour in Glass is in a 2-page Glamour Glossary, tucked into the back of the book almost as an afterthought.  Now, to be fair, Ms. Kowal does make the attempt to showcase the logistics of the magic with Jane’s stay at a school for glamourists, an innovative move but one that still left me guessing.  For an author who’s so widely known for her fantasy and science fiction work, I’m still wishing for more!  Certainly more than a glossary.  Please?

But in general, the story bounds along in an elegant way.  Kowal’s writing style is beautiful and engrossing, not to Regency-y but still conforming to the canon of the time.  It’s a noble effort for a second novel, and displays a lot of growth and maturation for her second attempt.  Her characters are still a little shallow, her pace a bit too quick, but a trip through Glamour in Glass shouldn’t leave you disappointed.  If you enjoyed Shades of Milk and Honey, give this one a shot!

4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books (2012)
Hardcover (336) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325570
NOOK: ISBN: 9781429987288
Kindle: ASIN: B006OLOUQY

© 2007 – 2012 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose