From the desk of Lisa Galek:
When most people think of Jane Austen, they probably don’t think of ballet. I know I certainly didn’t. That was until I read The Muse. With her contemporary reimagining of Pride and Prejudice, Jessica Evans proves that the demanding and competitive world of a professional ballet company is exactly the place where you might find a modern Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy.
Elizabeth Bennet is a young dancer at the Ballet Theater of New York. While Elizabeth might not have her sister Jane’s perfect technique or ideal body, she still dreams of rising up the ranks to one day become a star. That’s why she’s thrilled when she finds out that she’s been cast in an upcoming ballet by former superstar dancer and legendary choreographer, William Darcy.
But, when Elizabeth finally meets Darcy, he’s not what she imagined at all. Sure, Darcy is immensely talented (and incredibly dreamy), but he’s also arrogant, abrasive, and dismissive in rehearsals. When Darcy asks Elizabeth for help as he choreographs, she grows to dislike him even more. What Elizabeth doesn’t realize is how much she’s inspiring Darcy as he creates. He’s finally found his muse.
The ballet might not seem like the natural place to find Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, but it was actually a surprisingly ideal setting. The characters translate perfectly into the high stakes world of professional ballet. Elizabeth is a talented dancer, but she’s just not like the other perfect ballerinas around her. Sure, there’s something special about the way she dances—it’s why Darcy falls for her—but Elizabeth just doesn’t see it herself. I really enjoyed following Elizabeth as she struggled to come into her own as a dancer and gain the confidence that she needed to succeed.
William Darcy is also perfectly prideful in his role as a former dancer and superstar choreographer. I could totally imagine Mr. Darcy as a demanding, overly critical artist yelling at a group of ballerinas while he directs them. Sure, this Darcy is arrogant, but he’s also masking a whole lot of insecurity deep down. Will his ballet be any good? That’s why he’s so drawn to Elizabeth—he needs the help and the inspiration to live up all the ballet hype around him.
Other minor characters also make a nice transition to modern ballet. Caroline Bingley is a bratty, conniving prima ballerina. Catherine Boroughs is an über rich patron of the arts (who threatens to pull her donations from the Ballet Theater of New York if her daughter, Anne, isn’t promoted to soloist). Greg Wickham is also a former dancer who keeps telling anyone who will listen that Darcy had him fired years ago.
The author actually makes a really interesting choice in this retelling that gives us more insight into the main characters. Instead of just telling us everything from Elizabeth’s point of view, she hovers back and forth between what Elizabeth and Darcy are thinking. At first, I wasn’t sure if this would work, but, after a few chapters, I realized how much it added to the story. After all, if you know Pride and Prejudice, you won’t be surprised that Darcy is falling madly in love with Elizabeth even while she’s growing to loath him. I really loved seeing their relationship in these early stages through Darcy’s eyes. Why is he drawn to her? What is their relationship doing to him? Why does she become his muse?
The entire story flows along really smoothly. It’s a definite page-turner. The author wisely cuts away some characters and plot points from the original to give us more time with Elizabeth and Darcy. This is the bread and butter of the book. The scenes between these two are both electric and sensual. The writing was so good, I wanted to read faster just to see what would happen next.
However, the book takes a bit of a turn after Darcy confesses his true feelings for Elizabeth. There’s so much build up to this point and so much sexual tension, that it’s just really tough to keep that going in the second half. Of course, maybe that’s the point. After all, Darcy has romanticized Elizabeth into this mythical figure who inspires his work. Once she rejects him, he’s forced to get to know her as a real person rather than an alluring dancer in his ballet.
While the author wisely trimmed some of the side plots from the original, this does start to become an issue in the last half of the story. No, I wouldn’t want to spend too much time watching Elizabeth rebuff a Mr. Collins type, but I also thought that the relationship between Jane and Charles Bingley just lacked some of the drama that the original had. Greg Wickham also didn’t seem to pose much of threat to Elizabeth and Darcy’s happiness. It left me wondering—so what is keeping these two apart exactly?
The Muse actually reminded me a lot of the movie, Center Stage. Though these characters are older, professional ballet dancers, both that movie and this book feature the same sorts of iconic roles. An older, flashy choreographer. A young dancer who stands out from the other girls. A spoiled prima ballerina. I’ve always loved that movie and it’s definitely a compliment to say that The Muse made me feel like I was not only immersed in Austen, but in the wonderful world of ballet, too.
4.5 out of 5 stars
The Muse: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Jessica Evans
Meryton Press (2014)
Trade paperback & eBook (298) pages
Book cover image courtesy of Meryton Press © 2014; text Lisa Galek © 2015, Austenprose.com
Disclosure of Material Connection: We received one review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. We only review or recommend products we have read or used and believe will be a good match for our readers. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”