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 insanity. 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 Stars
The Knights of Derbyshire: Pride and Prejudice Continues (Volume 5), by Marsha Altman
Laughing Man Publications (2012)
Trade paperback (406) pages
Book cover image courtesy of Laughing Man Publications © 2012; text Shelley DeWees © 2012, Austenprose.com