From the desk of Debbie Brown:
Abigail Reynolds continues to outdo herself, to the delight of JAFF readers throughout the world. Her name is one of the most recognizable in the genre, and for good reason. She’s been providing unique ways for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet to fall in love for over a decade. While many authors run out of fresh ideas after one or two solid books, her prolific writing keeps improving.
In her recently released A Matter of Honor, she’s given Darcy and Elizabeth some new obstacles. She mostly ignores Longbourn and Pemberley and, while Hunsford and Rosings loom large in the plot, her book goes to Kent only briefly, spending most of its time in Scotland.
The story begins six months after Elizabeth refused Darcy’s insulting marriage proposal and accepted his letter the following morning, but their paths haven’t crossed since. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy are returning to Netherfield, each praying he can win the forgiveness and love of his respective Bennet sister. Both gentlemen are shunned by the entire Meryton community, and they’re turned away from Longbourn. When Bingley discovers the reason, he angrily confronts Darcy. “You ruined [Elizabeth], and with her, you ruined the woman I love. Because of you, Miss Elizabeth has had to leave Longbourn forever. The Bennets are in deep disgrace.”
Darcy didn’t do anything wrong, but he figures this is an easy fix: he’ll just talk to Mr. Bennet and offer to marry Elizabeth, which is what he’d planned to do anyway.
Nope. Mr. Bennet won’t budge. “Lizzy does not wish to marry you, and she will do so only over my dead body… She is out of your reach. I am the only person who knows where she is, and I will not tell you.”But it’s Darcy he’s talking to here, and you just know he’s not giving up so easily. It’s a matter of honor, after all─honor and love. The search is on!
And a hugely entertaining search it is. It leads Darcy through the Edinburgh Theatre Royal, with one section of the book centered around the life of the “theatricals,” as the company members call themselves. Darcy does manage to find Elizabeth fairly early on, but she’s elusive, skittish, and eventually disappears again (after one steamy kiss), terrified that anyone in England might learn they have been together. What’s her problem? The full answer is complicated. This book contains plenty of secrets, danger, romance, and angst.
And humor! A housekeeper by the name of Mrs. MacLaren introduces the staff: “…May I present the butler of Kinloch House, Mr. MacLaren? And this is our steward, Mr. MacLaren.” Then we have Auld Jack (another MacLaren), who may or may not be a highwayman; he regularly threatens to kill Elizabeth. And there’s a crazy (yet remarkably credible) scene that, in Elizabeth’s words, is “…a wedding turned into a drawing-room comedy.”
I do believe this is Ms. Reynolds’ best story yet. Purists might argue that it’s too far off-canon to be considered a true P&P variation, but I contend that Darcy, Elizabeth and other characters from canon here are consistent with Jane Austen’s characterizations, which is my personal litmus test.
It’s a brilliantly woven tale filled with numerous subplots that all influence the primary story: Darcy’s resolve to overcome all obstacles and marry Elizabeth. Ms. Reynolds incorporates into her story the popularity of Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake, which is set in the Highlands and was first published in 1810. Not only do we learn about the suspicion with which the Highlanders of this era viewed all “Sassenach” (the British), but we get a history lesson explaining the roots of their mistrust, and it’s integral to the plot. Things are light and fun with the theatre group in the Lowlands, but the chapters in the Scottish Highlands are chilling…literally. Elizabeth lives there during the cold, dark, snowy winter, with the harsh weather providing both a fitting atmosphere and a significant effect on the trajectory of the story.
The author creates vivid characters, even minor ones like the children. Depictions of Mrs. MacLean, Jasper Fitzpatrick, and the other actors remind me of real people I met in a community theatre group. We see the confrontational side of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who’s unusually cranky. The various MacLarens might share the same name, but the clan chief and his son have distinctive personalities, as do many other clan members. I particularly enjoy the cantankerous Auld Jack.
As for romance, Abigail Reynolds has always been a master at building up the steam between Darcy and Elizabeth. At times, the angst-meter reaches excruciating levels. However, true love prevails, as we know it must.
And when it’s an Abigail Reynolds book, we know it’s a must-read. This one certainly is!
5 out of 5 Regency Stars
A Matter of Honor: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, by Abigail Reynolds
White Soup Press (2019)
Trade paperback & eBook (483) pages
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Cover image courtesy of White Soup Press © 2019; Text Debbie Brown © 2019, Austenprose.com