Are you up for a Pride and Prejudice inspired battle of wit and romance set in Scotland? If that raised a few eyebrows, I am not surprised. It is a unique combination that requires some set up.
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 Stars
Twixt Two Equal Armies, by Gail McEwen & Tina Moncton
Meryton Press (2010)
Trade paperback (430) pages
© 2007 – 2011 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose
Sounds like a fantastic read! I love to read about Scotland so to have the P & P plot take place there is a bonus.
PS: PBS Facebook page is still open for voting until 5 or 6 tonight. Mr. Darcy (YAY!!) vs. Rochester.
Great, great review, Laurel Ann!
I loved this book. Just as Elizabeth Aston’s series can stand alone — so does this debut novel from international writing team, Gail McEwen and Tina Moncton. Regardless of how many times I have read this novel– I am almost ashamed to lend out my copy as it so dog-eared and tattered from wear– I never tire of the story or sentiments. Not a careless word written; each phrase is well intended without appearing so; excellent research of the times and mores; I often find myself reading entire passages aloud– the cadence and pacing is that good! Although this novel has plenty of everyone’s favorite couple,Darcy and Elizabeth, it’s really not their story. That said, McEwen and Moncton have created entirely new and extremely interesting and fresh characters. And why wouldn’t Darcy & Elizabeth have such friends! But the beauty of this book IMO is that you don’t really like Miss Holly Tournier or Lord Baugham that much, at first. He doesn’t really go out of his way to please unless he wants to — and she is stubborn, prideful and entirely too sensible. I found myself holding my breath at their every confrontation(and how they actually fall in love with each other despite their intentions.) I’m always surprised out how anxious I am to see them finally get together,even when I’ve known all along of the very happy outcome. I have actually come to love these characters nearly as much as Darcy & Elizabeth! Its a refreshing addition to my collection! If you are a fan of Georgette Heyer, you will love this as well. Worth the money.
I own Twixt Two Equal Armies and love it, love it, love it! Its a wonderful read! It adds a new layer to the beloved story of Pride and Prejudice, and introduces two marvelous new characters; Holly Tournier and Lord Baugham. Actually, make that three marvelous new characters–as Arabella Tournier, Holly’s mother and Mr. Bennet’s sister, is simply brilliant.
The story centers on the relationship between Holly and Baugham and adds a dash of insight into the private lives of Darcy and Elizabeth. I wouldn’t classify it as a ‘what if’ P & P story, but rather as an excellent companion to the original that is so well written as to be capable of standing on its own, and very successfully! One certainly would not have to be familiar with the works of Jane Austen to enjoy Twixt. The characters are well developed–and ever so likeable, and the pace of the story is just perfect.
This novel is sure to please fans of Regency Romances that feature a spirited heroine, witty exchanges and a droll English gentleman that you can’t help but adore!
A great review for a fantastic book! Gail & Tina had me fall in love with David and Holly with this book; now I can’t get enough of D&H stories.
Excellent writing and storytelling!
I guess I am a creature of habits so I most assuredly have my list of Favorite Things in which I indulge in again and again. “Twixt two equal armies” landed high up on that list almost as soon as I started reading it. In capturing the essence of Ms. Austen’s masterpiece and personal favorite novel, Pride and Prejudice, Ms. McEwen and Ms. Moncton have done something quite spectacular in this superb collaborative piece. They have written a novel that is so compelling and enjoyable that it stands as an independent work rather than a P&P tribute piece. Indeed, such is their talent that I was completely happy to find my beloved Darcy and Elizabeth cast as the supporting characters while two new stars, Lord Baugham and Holly Tournier moved in and took over my imagination and my heart.
Ms. Elizabeth Bennet has traveled to Scotland to spend some time post Hunsford with her beloved cousin Holly Tournier and her indomitable aunt, Mme. Arabella Tournier. Coincidently, the cheeky and adorable Lord Baugham finds himself escaping from both his recent and distant past to hide out in his Scottish refuge located on the outskirts of the same village. And so it is that Mr. Darcy imposes on his fortuitously located friend from where he can renew his addresses on Ms. Bennet. This however is merely the vehicle through which Baugham and Holly find themselves repeatedly thrust into each other’s company. Holly’s predisposition to dislike “the Laird” is matched only by Baugham’s distrust of the other sex. The masterful comedic writing, coupled with the perfect pacing and compelling characterization wonderfully illustrates how loves blossoms not just between but in spite of the protagonists. The eponymous armies of Holly’s stubborn common sense go head-to-head against Baugham’s self indulgent protectiveness only to have each one completely and utterly defeat the other.
This story is engaging, satisfying and enjoyable from start to finish and truly leaves one wanting more. We know that the battles between these armies will flare again and will be all the more welcome as we savor the inevitable surrender and delicious peacetime.
Re the PBS bracket – Darcy beat Rochester to a resounding, blood pulp (for which I do heartily agree).
I was at B&N today and had this book in my hands. I wasn’t sure, so I put it back on the shelf. These reviews make me sorry I left it there – I’ll be sure to pick it up next time. I will soon need more shelf space for all my Jane Austen-ish books – I’m addicted.
I might have missed it but is this book self-published? I’m thinking if it has been, then perhaps SourceBooks would consider buying it and having it edited and then published with your concerns addressed.
Hi Karen, not self-published but by a Meryton Press, a small independent publisher.