Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace

Darcy's Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace (2011)From the desk of Jeffrey Ward

For 200 years, I suspect many enthralled readers of Pride and Prejudice have silently pondered the question “What would Darcy do?” Author Maria Grace endeavors to put her own spin on this with her debut prequel novella Darcy’s Decision, in her Given Good Principles trilogy.

Spanning a brief but significant moment in time, the main gist of the story deals with Darcy’s rival Mr. Wickham, his demands for a living, and his alleged compromising of Georgiana and how young Mr. Darcy finally deals with it.

It is six months following the death of his father and Fitzwilliam Darcy struggles with how to honorably and properly manage the vast holdings of Pemberley, care for his 15 year old rapidly-maturing teenage sister, and deal with the prickly problem of one Mr. Wickham –his boyhood friend who shows up to claim the curacy that was thought promised to him by Darcy’s father. A dinner at Pemberley with some cherished neighbors, the Bingleys, Georgiana, the newly-appointed curate John Bradley and Mr. Wickham reveals the complications Darcy is up against:  (Georgiana speaking of Wickham)

“You came to pay your respects?” Lackley dabbed his chin with his napkin. “No, he did not.” Everyone gasped, staring at Georgiana. “Stop it!” Rebecca hissed, reaching for Georgiana’s hand. “He was promised the living given to Mr. Bradley.” A hush fell over the table. Darcy’s pulse thudded in his temples as the blood drained from his face.

With admirable originality the author has created a morality drama with Biblical undertones stressing mercy, forgiveness, and what makes a man truly great. She showcases the familiar well-loved characters of Pride and Prejudice quite accurately: Darcy, Wickham, Richard Fitzwilliam, the Bingleys, Mrs. Reynolds, as well as introducing her own cast of loveable loyal neighbors and old family friends. Chief among these is John Bradley, the vital mentor to both Darcys – father and son. The wise old Clergyman counsels young Darcy and the dialogue is beautiful in its timeless truth:

“I am not like him.”Darcy grimaced and swallowed hard against the rising bile. “I lack his wisdom, his discernment.” But you were given good principles, the ones your father stood.” The wind whipped his coattails and scoured his face. “Are they enough?” “He found them so.” Bradley clapped his shoulder.

But as Darcy reads his father’s private journals, a shocking confession is uncovered which will test the young man’s mettle and may change forever his attitude towards his late father and young Darcy’s relationship with his immediate family.

No Elizabeth? Sorry, but I believe she makes her appearance in the author’s trilogy installment #2 – The Future Mrs. Darcy. Until then, the romantic interest in this tale features the obnoxious Caroline Bingley as she sets her cap at poor Fitzwilliam. The off-and-on banter between Darcy, Charles Bingley, and Richard Fitzwilliam regarding how and who they may find as wives is utterly charming and really sets the stage for #2 in the author’s trilogy.

At scarcely 120 pages, the author still manages to lavish her debut work with historical accuracy, helpful footnotes, and scintillating dialogues. The author’s unique voice is most apparent in her descriptions of facial expressions, posturing, gestures, and mannerisms. A scene where Wickham is bound up and is being interrogated by Darcy and his buddies is so vivid and comical that I was in raptures mentally visualizing the entire episode.

About the only minor criticism I can level against this work is the character of Georgiana who Jane Austen describes in chapters 44 and 45 of Pride and Prejudice as exceedingly shy and quiet. This author’s Georgiana, on the other hand, is quite the feisty outspoken teenage girl, but I suppose that can be excused off as the emotional frustration of no longer being a girl, but not quite a woman yet.

I found Darcy’s Decision richly entertaining with a very plausible variation on “what if?” If Darcy doesn’t wear the mantle of hero yet with you, dear readers, I predict he will once you finish this read. Next stop? The Future Mrs. Darcy, or course!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Darcy’s Decision: Given Good Principles Volume 1, by Maria Grace
Good Principles Publishing (2011)
Trade paperback (154) pages
ISBN: 978-0615582771

© 2013 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. Snyder – A Review

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C.A. SnyderGuest review by Jeffrey Ward

Dop·pel·gäng·er  [daw-puh l-geng-er] –noun  A ghostly double or counterpart of a living person.

“Catherine turned.

Had she caught a bit of moonlight in the room?  For there before our heroine stood within the secret door one of HERSELVES, bedecked in the stiff panniered satins of a previous age.  The figure beckoned, light glinting off and through her rings and all-too-familiar necklace.  The sweet mouth opened perhaps for no stranger purpose than to draw breath, except that our heroine seemed to hear whispered all about her “veni.”

What could she have done?  She was a heroine, and with that came certain obligations.  So, picking up her skirts, Catherine followed.” (page 85)

Moonlight! Castles! Ghosts! Storms! Secret trap doors! Suicide! Grave yards! Mistaken Identities! Carriage accidents! Gypsies! Hauntings! A kidnapping! Purloined letters! A duel! Swooning! Wild Pursuits! Demonic possession! A disputed inheritance! Three romances! A ransacking! Ancient curses!  A stolen will and testament! Dank subterranean passageways!

Multi-talented Emily C. A. Snyder has managed to pack the above list (and more) into the 139 page Nachtstürm Castle, a sophisticated Gothic fantasy sequel, taking up the further adventures of Henry and Catherine Tilney where our divine Miss Austen finished the last lines of Northanger Abbey.

Beginning in the quiet shelter of the Tilney home in Woodston, we find the newly-weds continuing to “fun” each other over their past escapades with Gothic tales, especially Radcliffe’s Udolpho, Catherine’s over-active imagination inside Northanger Abbey, and Henry’s loving provocation of her naivete’.

A Honeymoon to the continent is proposed by Reverend Tilney to his bride, particularly to the Apennines of Italy, the setting for Udolpho.  While in Paris, they are befriended by a Robert Wiltford, Baron of Branning and his wife, who own a castle in the mountains of Austria near Switzerland and Italy.  The ancient castle’s name? Why “Nachtstürm,” of course. The Baron offers to let the castle to the Tilneys for their honeymoon. But, before we continue, crucial questions must be pondered.  Is our hero, Henry, really THAT clever? Is our Heroine, Catherine, really THAT gullible?  Why the questions? Because the mysterious plot pivots around Catherine’s inability to determine whether her scheming husband is staging their every activity in advance or if indeed what befalls them is totally beyond their control.

The exchange in Paris:

“Nachtstürm Castle,” he repeated, grinning boyishly.  “What a perfectly dreadful name.  Well, it mayn’t be the Apennines, but I hope it shall suffice?” “Of course, my love.  What a fortunate coincidence!”  Catherine agreed with a smile and a gentle touch.  For she was assured now, as she had only suspected before, that there was nothing coincidental at all when Henry Tilney was concerned. (page 18)

Ms Snyder employs all of the classic Gothic props, as from the very moment of their arrival they find themselves embroiled in the middle of a power struggle over the rightful ownership of Nachtstürm Castle.  Nothing is quite as it seems and for a time even the Reverend and Mrs. Tinley doubt each other’s motives as they are caught up in the wild intrigue.  And just who or what is Edric, the elderly steward of Nachtstürm, who seems to hold all within his sphere captive by a malevolent power?

After some particularly unnerving events involving poor Catherine in and around the castle:

There could be no doubt in her mind now that her adventures in Nachtsturm Castle were not, after all, Henry’s careful planning. The certainty had been growing within her since the previous night’s escapade – only now formalized in the wake of Henry’s inability to answer her questions.  She reeled from the thought! (page 84)

Ms Snyder’s Henry is handsome, clever, witty, protective, and recklessly heroic at times.  Marriage must be agreeing mightily with Catherine because she is in full bloom, admired by all who encounter her as a winsome young beauty.  And, trusting that her Henry may be planning thrills for her amusement, she takes courageous chances at times.  The banter between these two is charming and sweet with an undercurrent of playful sensuality that is characteristic of two people who are daily growing more madly in love with each other.

Early on, a teasing and amorous Henry steers his lovely bride towards the bedroom with this:

“That Woodston shall be haunted ‘til life be brought again,” Henry had replied, taking his wife’s hand and leading her with his shoulders a-slump, resignation in his voice, and a twinkle in his eye.  I’m afraid, my dear, that the parish must be peopled!” (page 4)

This is not a sedate Austenesque sequel but a harrowing thriller that requires of the reader a certain level of concentration and diligence to not get lost in the multiplicity of characters, dates, places, and events.  Being written by an academician, (which I am not), I was sent scurrying for my dictionary more than once and with dialogue in French, German, and Italian, I was thankful to have studied Latin.  This Novella should be…no…MUST be read-through a second time.  On my re-read, morsels of enlightenment, sometimes as seemingly insignificant as a single word or short phrase, were revealed that greatly enhanced my understanding and pleasure regarding the convoluted mystery of Nachtstürm Castle.   This reviewer cannot remember reading a novella, or any other work of this length, that had within its pages so much to offer the fancier of Gothic fiction.  Read it after dark with your back to the wall and facing a locked door!

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Nachtstürm Castle: A Gothic Austen Novel, by Emily C. A. Snyder
CreateSpace (2010)
Trade paperback (139) pages
ISBN: 978-1453638828

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 – 2011 Jeffrey Ward, Austenprose

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