Twixt Two Equal Armies takes us on a variant path from Hertfordshire to Clanough, Scotland with Jane Austen’s characters Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy, introducing us to Elizabeth’s widowed Aunt, Mme. Arabella Tournier and her unmarried cousin Mlle. Holly Tournier living in genteel poverty at Rosefarm Cottage. Also in the neighborhood is Lord Baugham, the elusive English “Laird” of Clyne Cottage, who arrives for the hunting season to escape from his dissipated life as a bon vivant and womanizer in London. Remarkably, he is Mr. Darcy’s particular friend.
In Jane Austen’s original plot, there is a critical point of uncertainty for heroine Elizabeth Bennet after her sister Lydia’s patched up marriage, Mr. Bingley’s proposal to her sister Jane, and Lady Catherine’s interrogation of her intensions to her nephew in the prettyish little wilderness in the Longbourn garden. We know that Mr. Darcy eventually returns to Meryton and proposes, wrapping up the novel quite neatly. But, what if he stayed in London and Elizabeth escaped Meryton to the sanctuary of friendship with her dear cousin Holly and her aunt in Scotland where Mr. Darcy’s friend Lord Baugham also has a country estate? Of course he must follow her, and the coincidence that she is staying with family living near Lord Baugham’s property is even more proof that the Fates are with him. After convincing his friend that he needs a holiday from the uncomfortable romantic entanglements of two married sisters, his Lordship travels to Scotland for a little relaxation and hunting. Mr. Darcy soon follows, but hunting deer and pheasants are not the kind of pursuits he has in mind.
What first appears as Pride and Prejudice “what if” quickly turns into the tale of the prickly friendship and unrealized romance of Lord Baugham and Holly Tournier. Darcy and Elizabeth do reunite and their love is requited, but we witness very little of it from their perspective. The narrative jumps back and forth between the two new protagonist’s point of view, and when the two do get together, the conversation inevitably turns into a debate of wits, as sharp words cross like swords. The tension is delightful and exasperating for all involved.
When Elizabeth returns to Longbourn and her family, Darcy departs Scotland too – both are gone from the plot and only spoken of peripherally for 200 hundred pages – until we learn of their engagement and marriage plans in Hertfordshire. In a time when people lived on news by correspondence, we are not even treated to a letter from cousin to cousin linking the stories together. Besides the baffling loss of Elizabeth and Darcy, we do develop a fondness for the new couple, Holly and Lord Baugham, Mrs. Tournier and the other characters in their lives. The enchanting teas at Rosefarm Cottage are the center of the novel as Mrs. Tournier’s intelligent conversation and her impertinent daughter who cannot abide silly flirtations draw his Lordship out of his protective facade and help him to discover genuine friendship and trust in his troubled life.
The dual authors Gail McEwen and Tina Moncton excel at dialogue. Here’s a great example of the guy talk between Darcy and Baugham:
Darcy looked at him and, while still maintaining his exact position in his chair, the corners of his mouth twitched ever so slightly.
“Never,” he said darkly, “never have you inflicted such pain upon me before, my friend. Not through broken ribs from fist fights or bloodshed or mental agony over hurt pride and lost challenges. The only comforting aspect is that you suffered as much as me.”
“I did,” Baugham said through clenched teeth. “God, if I have ever done anything so painful before in the name of charity…”
“Next time,” Darcy said, “make a subscription to some worthy society instead.”
“Like ‘The Society for the Forceful Eviction of Pompous Persons from Homes of Deserving Women’.”
“Or we could just kill him,” Darcy added darkly. “He is the sort of man who plans his own funeral meticulously. It would be a shame to miss it.” Page 187
In addition, the banter, bordering on bickering, between Holly and David was ripping good fun. Not since Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler or Katherine and Petruchio have I enjoyed couples disagreeing so much!
Even though there is a lot of lengthy exposés of telling instead of showing going on in the narrative, I found their prose delightful, but dense. And if you missed my inference, the two authors have a lot to say, in depth, and in triplicate. This novel is a chunkster at 430 pages in print and 533 pages on my Nook. If you are prepared for the long haul before the story returns to Hertfordshire, Lizzy and Darcy’s wedding, and the final denouement (which Austen would have advised them to end much more quickly), this is an endearing tale of genuinely flawed characters that you will truly care about.
Like our hero and heroine Lord Baugham and Holly Tournier’s amusing love/hate relationship, there were times that I laughed out loud at the witty humor, cheered on the *swoon* worthy romance and rolled my eyes in vexation over the loss of focus. Twixt to Equal Armies is a novel without an identity. Is it a Pride and Prejudice “what if” or an historical romance? A novel can be both things, but not equally in the same space. A writer needs to make a commitment in one direction and stick with it. As a first draft, this novel rates a very high score, but I do not think it is polished enough, yet. It has incredible potential, as do its authors. They just need to find the right red pen.
4 out of 5 Regency Stars
Twixt Two Equal Armies, by Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton
Meryton Press (2010)
Trade paperback (430) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose