Following A Weekend with Mr. Darcy and Dreaming of Mr. Darcy comes the caboose in Victoria Connelly’s “Austen Addicts” trilogy: Mr. Darcy Forever. Every niche of this contemporary romance is lavishly replete with enough references from Jane Austen’s six novels to sate even the worst addict. This charmer, set in two of Jane’s best-loved locations: South Devon and Bath, is devoid of lurid sexuality or profanity, and sweetly laced with humor.
Sisters Sarah and Mia Castle have always been closer than twins although Mia is almost a decade Sarah’s junior. Because of their shared love of Jane Austen, Sarah books the actual home used as Barton Cottage from one of the Sense and Sensibility film adaptations as a birthday surprise for Mia. While there, they encounter a handsome and Willoughby-like visitor who unfortunately drives a wedge of estrangement between the two sisters that stubbornly persists for three years. Following the unfortunate rift, incredible developments occur that neither would believe possible of the other.
Three years hence, Mia visits her closest friend Shelley who lives in Bath where the two plan to participate in the annual Jane Austen festival, something the sisters formerly did together. The only thing less wanted than the sisters bumping into each other is encountering the guy who started the whole mess and he is indeed lurking in Bath!
The personalities of the two sisters unfold into likenesses of the Dashwood sisters from Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility: sensible Sarah very much like Elinor and impulsive Mia similar to Marianne. Sarah acts as the mother-figure trying to curb Mia’s often wildly impetuous nature while simultaneously trying to control her own terrible condition. Sarah suffers from acute Obsessive Compulsive Disorder which has already destroyed her marriage and she struggles hopelessly in its grip. I was instantaneously attached to this flawed heroine’s plight, identified deeply with her, and hoped so much for her. Ironically, the most hilarious moments in the entire book involve poor Sarah’s inability to cope with her OCD!
Sense and Sensibility comparisons rise again in the men the sisters encounter while in Bath. Mia meets Gabe who lives in an adjoining home to her friend Shelley. He’s a widowed architect and seems too old for her but she craves his company. “She’d always dated men her own age and had never been tempted by the older man, but she was enjoying talking to Gabe. He was easy to listen to, and she felt like she’d known him for ages.” Can this be anyone else but Colonel Brandon?
Meanwhile, Sarah timidly explores Bath, and unable to find a spot for lunch, bravely sits on a bench next to a gentleman named Lloyd, a professional media photographer, who is taking pictures of the festival for a magazine. Acquainting easily, they soon discover they are both list-keepers, “germaphobes,” despise disorder, and neither seems put-off by their confessions. Is Lloyd vaguely reminiscent of Edward Ferrars? A dramatic moment ensues as Lloyd shows her images in his camera. ‘As picture followed picture, Sarah’s eyes picked out the image of a young woman she thought she recognized. Could it have been Mia? “Go back!” she suddenly blurted. “Back!” Lloyd looked surprised but scrolled back through the photos. “Stop!” Sarah grabbed the camera from him and zoomed into the figure,’
For about half the story, the author switches between past/present and Barton/Bath revealing little-by-little what actually happened between the sisters and the man that bewitched them both. Initially, I felt lost in the maze of brief chapters that shuttled back and forth between place and time but once I finally understood the author’s intent, I found this technique indeed accentuated the dramatic intensity of the plot.
Finally, for those unfamiliar with Jane Austen or her “fan-fiction” world, don’t be dissuaded from reading this one. Remove most references to Austen (God forbid) and this book stands just as tall on its own strengths. The poignant story of two sisters ripped apart and their three-year journey back to reconciliation is compelling enough in its own right. Then kick it up another notch with the two loveable heroes who gently try to restore the shattered lives of Sarah and Mia and their lost relationship with each other. Deeply hurt and guarded ever since their tragedy at Barton, can the sisters ever hope to trust their hearts to men again or return the growing affection that Gabe and Lloyd are feeling for them? Will author Victoria Connelly confirm to us that the right man can indeed become Mr. Darcy Forever? I hope you understand my meaning when I say the 330 pages just evaporated in my hands as I sought the answer.
4.5 out of 5 Regency Stars
Jeffrey Ward, 65, native San Franciscan living near Atlanta, married 40 years, two adult children, six grandchildren, Vietnam Veteran, degree in Communications from the University of Washington, and presently a Facilitator/designer for the world’s largest regional airline. His love affair with Miss Austen began about 3 years ago when, out of boredom, he picked up his daughter’s dusty college copy of Emma and he was “off to the races.”
© 2007 – 2012 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose