Mary B.: A Novel: An Untold Story of Pride and Prejudice, by Katherine J. Chen – A Review

Mary B Katherine Chen 2018 x 197 x 300Of the five Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is the most unlikely of heroines. Priggish, sanctimonious, and unattractive, her prospects for a happy life were bleak. In Mary B., debut novelist Katherine Chen chooses to give Mary her own story – delving into her young, awkward life with her family at Longbourn, her early attempts at romantic attachments, and ultimately her escape to her sister’s home at Pemberley where she discovers an unknown talent, and that men can be interested in women for more than their reputed beauty and handsome dowry.

In Part I of the novel, Chen has paralleled Jane Austen’s narrative in Pride and Prejudice with a glimpse of a prequel to the Bennet sisters’ childhood. We see young Mary, awkward and introverted in comparison to her older sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and the brunt of abuse by her two younger siblings Kitty and Lydia. As the reader, we are as hurt and confused as our heroine and it is not an enjoyable experience. As the story continues, those who have read Pride and Prejudice will recognize the plot as it picks up at the beginning of Austen’s famous tale. Through Mary’s eyes, we experience the arrival of Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy in the Meryton neighborhood, the ball at Netherfield Park and the visit to the family home by the Bennet’s odious cousin Mr. Collins. Infatuated with the silly man, Mary throws herself at him and then watches as he chooses her sister Lizzy as the “companion of his future life.” Adding insult to injury, after her sister rejects his proposal of marriage Mr. Collins does not even think of her as an alternative, marrying their neighbor Charlotte Lucas instead. Continue reading

Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Episode 1: Dancing into Battle – Recap & Review

Belgravia Julian Fellowes 2016 x 200Hold on to your bonnets historical fiction fans! Today is the official debut of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia, a new serialized novel by Downton Abbey’s creator/writer. Set in London in the early Victorian-era, the story follows one family’s life and how a secret from twenty-five years earlier, changed them forever.

Austenprose is honored to be the first stop on the Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia Progressive Blog Tour which will, over the course of ten weeks, travel through the ether visiting popular book bloggers and authors specializing in historical fiction and romance. Today we will be recapping and reviewing the first episode, “Dancing Into Battle.”

Released in 11 weekly installments, each episode of Julian Fellowes’ Belgravia will conclude with twists, turns and cliff-hanger endings popularized by the novels of Dickens, Gaskell and Conan Doyle in the nineteenth century. Delivered directly to your cell phone, tablet or desktop via a brand new app, you can read the text or listen to the audio recording narrated by acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson, or jump between the two. In addition, you will have access to the exclusive bonus features available only through the app including: history, fashion, food & drink, culture and more that will frame the story while immersing you into the character’s sphere. In addition, the first episode is totally free!

Here is a short video on how it all works: Continue reading

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen Virtual Book Launch Party and Blog Tour with Author Shannon Winslow & Giveaways! 

The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen banner x 500

I am very pleased to welcome author Shannon Winslow to Austenprose today to officially open her virtual book launch party and blog tour of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, published today by Heather Ridge Arts. This new Austenesque novel is a fascinating combination of fact and fiction, exploring Jane Austen’s unknown personal journal— revealing her secret romance with a Royal Navy officer, Captain Devereaux, who was the inspiration for her final novel, Persuasion. 

Shannon has generously offered a guest blog sharing her inspiration to write her new novel—and to add to the festivities—we will be offering an amazing selection of giveaways including: trade paperback and digital eBook copies of The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen, a tote bag bundle stuffed with a print copy of the book and Jane Austen-inspired merchandise, and an original pastel drawing “By the Seaside at Lyme” inspired by the 1995 movie, Persuasion, created by Shannon. Just leave a comment following this blog post to enter. The contest details are listed below. Good luck to all. 

Please join us in welcoming Shannon Winslow.

What inspired me to write The Persuasion of Miss Jane Austen?

I can’t quite put my finger on when the concept for this book first occurred to me. It was more of a slowly germinating seed rather than a bolt out of the blue, something that needed to ruminate in my brain a while before emerging onto the page. But this will give you an idea how my thoughts about the book evolved. Continue reading

Havisham: A Novel, by Ronald Frame – A Review

Havisham A Novel by Ronald Frame 2013 x 200Dear Mr. Frame:

I recently read Havisham, your prequel and retelling of Charles Dickens Great Expectations, one of my favorite Victorian novels. Your choice to expand the back story of the minor character Miss Havisham, the most infamous misandry in literary history, was brilliant. Jilted at the altar she was humiliated and heartbroken, living the rest of her days in her tattered white wedding dress in the decaying family mansion, Satis House. Few female characters have left such a chilling impression on me. I was eager to discover your interpretation of how her early life formed her personality and set those tragic events into motion.

Dickens gave you a fabulous character to work with. (spoilers ahead) Born in Kent in the late eighteenth-century, Catherine’s mother died in childbirth leaving her father, a wealthy brewer, to dote upon his only child. Using his money to move her up the social ladder she is educated with aristocrats where she learns about literature, art, languages and the first disappointments of love. In London, she meets and is wooed by the charismatic Charles Compeyson. Family secrets surface in the form of her dissipated half-brother Arthur, the child of a hidden marriage of her father to their cook. Her ailing father knows his son has no interest in his prospering business and trains his clever young daughter. After his death, the inevitable clash occurs between the siblings over money and power. Challenged as a young woman running a business in a man’s world, Catherine struggles until Charles reappears charming his way into her service and her heart. About two-thirds of the way through the novel the events of Great Expectations surface. Charles abandons her on their wedding day and she sinks into depression. Continue reading

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter – A Review

The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet's Pride and Prejudice, by Jennifer Paynter (2014 )From the desk of Jenny Haggerty:

With only half a dozen speeches in Pride and Prejudice Mary Bennet still manages to make an impression. Bookish, socially awkward, and prone to moralizing, it’s hard to picture her as the heroine of a romance novel. Though I’d laugh along at her cluelessness Mary has always had my sympathy, so when I discovered Jennifer Paynter’s The Forgotten Sister: Mary Bennet’s Pride and Prejudice I couldn’t wait to read it. Would this book rescue Mary from the shadows of Pride and Prejudice? I hoped so.

The Forgotten Sister opens before the events of Pride and Prejudice, with Mary recounting her story in her own words. She begins with an admission of early worries, “For the best part of nine years–from the age of four until just before I turned thirteen–I prayed for a brother every night.” (8)  By then family life is strained, but early on Mr. and Mrs. Bennet are carefree and happy. Young Jane and Elizabeth are doted on by their parents, who are optimistic there is still time to produce a male heir and secure their entailed estate. Everything changes though when Mary, a third daughter, is born. Worries set in. The Bennets begin bickering. About a month after Mary’s birth Mrs. Bennet has an attack of nerves so acute that Mary is sent away to a wet-nurse, Mrs. Bushell, with whom she stays for several years.  From then on, neglect by and separation from her family become recurring patterns in Mary’s life. Continue reading

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria: A Pink Carnation Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, by Lauren Willig (2013) From the desk of Christina Boyd

Acclaimed author Lauren Willig’s latest offering, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria, is the tenth novel in her New York Times bestselling Pink Carnation series. This historical romance series of Napoleonic era English spies, that fight for Britain and for love, is constructed within a modern-day love story, told from the point of view of the American grad student Eloise Kelly who is writing her dissertation on the true identity of the Pink Carnation, the master British spy of the time.

In Purple Plumeria, (those of us who have been previously “Pinked,” often refer to the novels by the abbreviated Flower title…), the handsome Colonel William Reid, who we first encountered in Blood Lily (The Betrayal of the Blood Lily) has returned to his daughters in England from a lifelong military career in India only to discover his youngest has recently disappeared from boarding school with one of her classmates.  Soon we learn the other missing student is Agnes Wooliston, the sister of British spymaster, errr, ehm, spymistress, the Pink Carnation – generally known as Miss Jane Wooliston – recalling her home from Paris to England. And where Miss Wooliston goes, so goes her caustically witty and straight-laced companion, and adroit, clever, a parasol-wielding agent of the War Office, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows. While conducting an interview with the headmistress, they meet the aforementioned comely, charming Colonel.

Gwen didn’t like any of this. She didn’t like it one bit. All her instincts, well honed over years of midnight raids, were shouting “trouble.” How much of the trouble was coming from the situation and how much from a certain sun-bronzed colonel was a matter for debate. Bad enough that Agnes had gone missing; worse yet to have to deal with the parent of the other girl, poking his nose in—however attractive a nose it might be—and posing questions that might prove inconvenient for everyone. And by everyone, she meant the Pink Carnation.  p. 55

Continue reading

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan – A Review

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan (2007) From the desk of Katie P.

Jane Austen. Georgette Heyer. The Regency. Those names instantly bring to mind witty conversations, saturnine heroes, and lavish ballrooms. So often we see these words on the cover or in reviews of a book, and eagerly pick it up hoping to find yet another book that will quickly become dog-eared and memorized. But just as often, we turn away disappointed yet again by finding out that the book falls far short of the reasons we chose it in the first place.

Indiscretion, by Jude Morgan—I am happy to say—is not like that.

Miss Caroline Fortune, at twenty, has the misfortune of being the sole caretaker and realist to her impractical, debt-ridden father. Ever since her mother died at the age of twelve, they have gone from shabby lodgings to even shabbier lodgings, all in the hope to escape debt collectors, and even worse, debtors’ prison. But just when they run out of options (and Caroline decides to become a governess), they are saved by the Gorgon-like Mrs. Catling (basilisk stare and all), who offers Caroline a position as her paid companion.
And this is just the beginning of Caroline’s adventures…

As paid companion, Caroline must reconcile her own independent spirit with the impossible job of placating her ferocious employer, while trying to navigate through the indiscretions of the people around her. She soon attracts the interest of Mr. Richard Leabrook, a handsome suitor, and the friendships of Mr. and Miss Downey, the niece and nephew of Mrs. Catling, but are they really what they seem? After a sudden change in circumstances, Caroline must find the family she has never met, become accustomed to country living (complete with climbing over stiles), prevent an elopement, come face-to-face with ghosts from her past, discover the joys of true friendship, and outwit the insulting, yet annoyingly appealing Mr. Stephen Milner, who insists that Caroline will be nothing but trouble.

What is Miss Fortune, innocent attracter of mayhem to do?  Be as discrete (or is it indiscrete?) as possible, with a lot of pluck and a little bit of canary!

About a year ago I stumbled upon Indiscretion by accident. I had just finished all of Jane Austen’s novels, and was in withdrawal. I found this because of one review that said ‘like Jane Austen’ and immediately had to read it. I was not disappointed, and was hooked from the very first page. Caroline Fortune reminded me so much of Jane Austen’s heroines—she has her failings, but has enough strength and humor to carry her through, and rise above, the situations she finds herself in. Just like another character we all know and love, Caroline cannot stay depressed—she has to find a reason to laugh.  She is a character with which we can quickly identify.

For while she did not lack a sense of her own merits, and had too much spirit ever to submit to being walked over, still she thought herself no more than tolerable-looking, and nurtured abysmal doubts about her ability ever to shine in company. She had a quick tongue, an active fancy, and a turn for wit, but these she employed, in truth, somewhat as a shield behind which she could shelter.” p. 25

Indiscretion is full of surprises and plot twists. People Magazine said: “the characters separate and reunite as rhythmically and precisely as ballroom dancers performing a waltz.” I couldn’t agree more. Jude Morgan crafts his story well—I’ve read it five or six times, and each time I find a new ‘layer’ that I hadn’t discovered, a new quote that seems truer than before—“We always think we know what we want: when in truth there is nothing we are less likely to know.”—and a conversation that gets funnier with each reading—““I have been run over by the speeding chariot of fate, caught up in its spiked wheels.” “I hate it when that happens,said Stephen.

While there are many Regency books that are either in the style of Georgette Heyer or set in the time period as an excuse for long dresses and handsome rakes (and very modern plots, dialogue, and ‘romance’ scenes), Indiscretion truly takes after the style of Jane Austen, with perception, wit, proper romance, and a satisfying ending. But even more importantly, Jude Morgan is an author to enjoy in his own right, with his own distinct voice that definitely makes him an author to be read.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Indiscretion: A Novel, by Jude Morgan
St. Martin’s Press (2007)
Trade paperback (384) pages
ISBN: 978-0312374372

© 2013 Katie P., Austenprose

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, by Regina Jeffers – A Review

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy, by Regina Jeffers (2012)Review by Lisa Galek

In case you’re like me and can never seem to get enough of your favorite Jane Austen characters, The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy will have you curled up next to the fires at Pemberley in no time. Just don’t expect to stay too long… for there’s a mystery to be solved!

This book is a sequel to a sequel. It follows the events of not only Pride and Prejudice, but also Regina Jeffers’s other Austen-inspired novel, Christmas at Pemberley. For those of us who haven’t got a chance to check out that volume yet, don’t worry – the author spends time catching us up on all the important details. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are happy at home at Pemberley, glowing after the birth of their first child, Bennet. Georgiana has also experienced some changes of her own. She has married her cousin, Major General Fitzwilliam (promoted from Colonel after we last left him in Pride and Prejudice). The Major General has been sent off to fight the French shortly after their marriage, leaving Georgiana to get settled at their estate in Scotland. As the novel opens, Georgiana receives an erroneous letter explaining that her husband has been killed during the battle of Waterloo. In her grief, she foolishly flees on horseback out onto the dangerous Scottish moors. When the Darcys receive word that Georgiana has not been heard or seen from in days, they race to Scotland in order to locate their missing sister. Their investigations lead them to Normanna Hall, a ghoulish gothic castle, owned by Domhnall MacBethan and his domineering mother, Dolina. What horrors live inside those terrifying walls? Does the secret to finding Georgiana lie inside the castle? Can the Darcys get to her in time?

The novel also returns us to some of our favorite characters. Mr. and Mrs. Wickham show up and attempt to gain entrance to Pemberley (they are rejected and fists fly). Mary and Kitty have also been married off to respectable young men. Jane and Charles Bingley are happy and thriving with their own family of three adorable little children. Lady Catherine also makes a brief appearance, but sadly, she seems to have received a complete personality makeover during Christmas at Pemberley, so there’s no one to satisfy one’s love for affable condescension.

One of the dangers of writing a sequel to one of the best-loved novels in all of western literature is that the reader may not care for the direction in which you take her cherished characters. I found myself alternately enjoying and being annoyed by the author’s depiction of the people I knew and loved from Pride and Prejudice. I was thrilled that Georgiana married Colonel Fitzwilliam (because that is what I always imagined would happen) and that Elizabeth, too, kept some of her wit and charm. However, I was completely annoyed with the Wickhams, who seemed to act totally out of character. Lydia suddenly had a desire to become a dutiful wife and Wickham had turned into a very violent and angry man. Elizabeth also had a bit of sap added as she repeatedly reassured her husband that if Georgiana were dead “they would know it in their hearts,” and seemed to put a little too much emphasis on her “woman’s intuition.” Mr. Darcy, too, got a bit of a romantic makeover. His constant expressions of love for Elizabeth seemed a bit too over-the-top. Certainly Mr. Darcy loved and valued his wife, but I have a hard time imagining that he would ever put these sentences down on paper:

Please know, my dearest Elizabeth, that each night I will dream of you – the woman I adore. My love for you is more than true, and my feelings are deeper than those three words so easily bandied about among those caught up in passion’s first flush. When you came into my life my world tilted, but it also opened for me for the first time. My life began. You are the music of my soul. Until we are once more in one another’s embrace, I remain your loving husband.

Aside from all this, the basic plot of the book was good. Though Georgiana’s disappearance didn’t come into play until about a third of the way through, once we started to understand more about the predicament she found herself in, I became more drawn into the story and more invested in finding out the fate of the missing girl. The new characters, too – especially the devious MacBethans – were well done and came with fully-formed backstories that added to the suspense and drama. And, I hope it’s not too much of a spoiler to say that this mystery had an intriguing twist that kept me guessing right up until the end.

All in all, an interesting and engaging read. Those who like a good mystery will be pulled in. And if you don’t mind seeing it all play out with your favorite Austen characters, then you’ll enjoy it all the more.

3.5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Disappearance of Georgiana Darcy: A Pride and Prejudice Mystery, by Regina Jeffers
Ulysses Press (2012)
Trade paperback (336) pages
ISBN: 978-1612430454
NOOK: 978-1612430812
Kindle: B007OVTCQ6

Lisa Galek is a professional writer, editor and lover of all things Jane Austen. She lives in the suburbs of Cleveland with her wonderful husband and their two beautiful daughters, Elizabeth and Gwendolyn. When she’s not working or mothering, she enjoys attempting to write her own novels, watching mindless TV shows, and re-reading Pride and Prejudice yet again.

© 2007 – 2012, Lisa Galek, Austenprose

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal – A Review

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal (2011)Guest review by Shelley DeWees – The Uprising

“Of his younger daughter, Melody, he had no concerns, for she had a face made for fortune.  His older daughter, Jane, made up for her deficit of beauty with rare taste and talent in the womanly arts.  Her skill with glamour, music, and painting was surpassed by none in their neighborhood and together lent their home the appearance of wealth far beyond their means.  But he knew how fickle young men’s hearts were.”

Presumably, one sister is “milk” and the other is “honey.”  They complement each other, yet stand alone, one with sweetness and flashy, showy pizazz, and the other with banal yet comfortable stability.  Sound like any other story you’ve heard?  Two sisters vying for attentions of the neighborhood menfolk with two completely different approaches: one passionate, erratic and overly capricious, the other steady and mindful and only dimly lit in terms of beauty.  Sound familiar?

It did (and does) to me, too.  Indeed, the similarities to Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility are palpable, from the easily-placed characters and their tastes, feelings, and under-developed motivations, to the plot, with a cadre of viable bachelors parading around and only one of them noble in his intentions.  The passionate sister even falls and twists her ankle; the scoundrel is attracted; the sensible sister tries to keep a lid on things.  The difference with Shades of Milk and Honey, Mary Robinette Kowal’s debut novel, though, is that many of the plot twists carry a strong sinister twinge.  Jealously and bitterness prevail on more than one occasion, bringing rise to an explosive ending as the consequences of deceit, unrequited love and unspoken truths boil over.  Add dueling pistols and you’ve got yourself a Regency-era party!

Add in magic, too.  Kowal weaves a beautiful magic system in Shades of Milk and Honey, its only shortfall being that it wasn’t fully explained or explored to the extent that I craved.  Jane, the Elinor Dashwood of this story, is particularly talented at manipulating “folds of glamour” that are “taken out of the ether.”  She laces them together, twisting and winding and pulling them into gorgeous imagery that is both pleasing and purposeful.  But how the heck is she doing it, Ms. Kowal?  Is there a wand involved?  Are we talkin’ spells or hexes or what?  All the reader ever discerns about this graceful system is that the efforts spent using it are physically draining, so much that the magician can collapse under the strain or even die.  I found myself desperate for more information on this front, and though I could feel an explanation bubbling up from time to time, thinking, “Okay, she’ll finally talk about it now,” it remains a mystery.  Dang.  That would’ve been cool.

The story itself is moderately compelling and kind of…well, charming in its simplicity.  Jane and Melody Ellsworth seek husbands.  Melody uses her strikingly well-formed looks to wrangle her potential suitors, not to mention girlish impulsiveness and her attractive yet overly-fluffed sense of confidence in her appearance.  Jane is much different, only grudgingly allowing her heart to feel a pang of wanting, being surprised when she discovers that she may not have to be a spinster.  Several men waltz through their quiet lives in Dorchester, including the dashing Captain Livingston, the prudent protector of a young sister, Mr. Dunkirk, and a tortured artist as well, Mr. Vincent.  Things play out, hearts are attracted some places and then others, secrets and scandals are uncovered, and both the sisters eventually figure out where their affections belong.  Dinners and dancing and picnics abound, most of them accentuated by the presence of magic and “folds of glamour” working delightful tricks.  The ending is, as previously mentioned, a whirlwind of emotion and heartbreak that leaves all involved parties shaken and changed forever.

The author clearly has a well-honed approach to writing, her prose and structure is lovely and flowing.  I did at times feel the characters were far away, intangible, and a bit of a mystery.  Still other moments found me wishing the story would slow for a bit of fleshing out.  The end almost reads like a fable, with blistering pace, summing up years and years in only a sentence or two.  Yes, the characters are archetypical, the brainiac and the fickle beauty queen battling again, in this unexplained world of magic and mayhem, but I still enjoyed it with a kind of reserved enthusiasm.  Shades of Milk and Honey represents a solid good ‘ol college try on Ms. Kowal’s part, and I look forward to reading more of her work as she matures and blossoms.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
Tor Books, New York (2011)
Trade paperback (304) pages
ISBN: 978-0765325600

© 2007 – 2011 Shelley DeWees, Austenprose

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer – A Review

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer (2011)Guest review by Laura A. Wallace a musician, attorney, and writer living in Southeast Texas.  She is a devotee of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer and is the author of British Titles of Nobility:  An Introduction and Primer to the Peerage (1998).

Our hero is 28, wealthy, with vast estates and dependents, and head of his house, having come into his inheritance at a young age.  He was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit; but to be fair, he is no more villainous than any other young man of large fortune used to getting his own way.  He needs an outspoken heroine to teach him a lesson about his self-consequence and pride.  Sound familiar?

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is one of Georgette Heyer’s most delightful novels in the genre she invented.  Set in 1817-18, for Austen aficionados it provides not only engaging characters, period manners, and lively dialogue, but what could be considered an exploration of one of Austen’s most beloved characters:  Mr. Darcy.

Not that this is fan fiction:  Sylvester’s character, though clearly inspired by Mr. Darcy, is fully developed, arguably more so than his literary progenitor.  The novel explores how a young man in such circumstances could be anything other than arrogant.  And Heyer heaps the (dis)advantages on Sylvester to the limits of possibility:  Sylvester is a duke.  This rank elevates the story from Austen’s genteel world to Heyer’s mostly aristocratic one, firmly in the London social scene as well as country house drawing rooms.

The novel opens with a leisurely exposition showing Sylvester in his natural setting:  at his country seat.  How delightful would it have been to be introduced thus to Mr. Darcy:  to see first not his selfishness, but his kindness to his servants, his cheerful undertaking of duty above pleasure, his childhood memories of playing across the vast demesne visible from a window?  He visits his invalid mother, with whom he has a relationship based in mutual and genuine affection, and here we learn the difficulty:  he has never been in love, but has decided to take a wife.  He has a short list of candidates (which he presents to the appalled duchess) and no doubt that any one of them is his for the asking.  And sadly, he is probably right:  not many young women would refuse the Duke of Salford.

But if Sylvester is a story-book hero, Phoebe is anything but a story-book heroine.  She is neither beautiful nor accomplished:  she is small, thin, awkward in company, and looks her best on horseback, where she is intrepid and nearly fearless.  But she is afraid of shouting and remonstrating, and she is also an ugly duckling who doesn’t fit in, the child of her father’s first marriage who finds no sympathy or understanding from her father, stepmother, or stepsisters.  Her one solace is writing:  she has written an absurd gothic novel in the style of Mrs. Radcliffe, peppered with caricatures of people she encountered in society during her first London season.  The roman-à-clef novel-writing heroine has become a trope of Regency fiction today, but Heyer may have invented it here.

Heyer sketches in these characters and their respective milieux deftly, and then plunges them into adventure.  Much of the rest of the novel is a “road book,” with encounters while traveling providing opportunities for the characters to meet and get to know each other within a comparatively short period of time.  There are also scenes set during the social season, including a pivotal one in a London ballroom.  How Sylvester and Phoebe come to an eventual understanding is as well-crafted and satisfying as that of Mr. Darcy and Lizzie.

But it is the cast of secondary characters that make this book a truly delightful read.  From Phoebe’s childhood friend, Tom Orde, to her stepmother, Lady Marlow, to Alice, the landlady’s daughter at an inn (who tells Sylvester that he is more important than a gobblecock), to Sylvester’s vain and stupid (but beautiful) widowed sister-in-law, Ianthe (Lady Henry Raine), with her six-year-old son, Master Edmund Raine, who is Sylvester’s ward, and her dandified suitor, Sir Nugent Fotherby, every character is well-rendered, memorable, and often very funny.  They, with Heyer’s skill, elevate the novel from being merely a love story to highly developed comedy, with elements of melodrama sneaking in to poke fun at genre conventions, all showing Heyer to be a mistress of her craft whom many have tried to emulate, but none equaled.

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle is the latest re-issue of Georgette Heyer’s oeuvre by Sourcebooks Casablanca.  It is the first one of these which I have read, and overall it was a pleasurable experience:  nice size, lovely cover art (which actually resembles Phoebe!), smooth paper, and easy-to-read typesetting.  My only complaint is that I found half-a-dozen “stealth scannos” (as they are termed over at Project Gutenberg’s Distributed Proofreading site), most of which are new errors that were not present in my 1995 HarperPaperbacks edition.  Although I suppose this is inevitable, it is still disappointing.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

Sylvester, or the Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (400) pages
ISBN: 978-1402238802

© 2007 – 2011 Laura Wallace, Austenprose

What Would Mr. Darcy Do, by Abigail Reynolds – A Review

What Would Mr. Darcy Do, by Abigail Reynolds (2011)Guest review by Christina Boyd

Hard on the heels of Kara Louise’s Only Mr. Darcy Will Do and Mary Simonsen’s The Perfect Bride for Mr. Darcy, comes another Pride and Prejudice “what if” from P&P variations pioneer, Abigail Reynolds. What Would Mr. Darcy Do is her latest re-imagining to be re-issued by Sourcebooks. Part of her Pemberley Variations series, it was first self-published in 2007 as From Lambton to Longbourne, and explores roads not taken in Jane Austen’s, Pride & Prejudice.

In Austen’s masterpiece, Fitzwilliam Darcy comes upon a distraught Miss Elizabeth Bennet just moments after she has received news of her youngest sister Lydia’s supposed elopement with Darcy’s nemesis George Wickham – and by that, the ruining of her family and all of the daughters chances for good marriages. After she shares as much to Darcy, he leaves.  “…she saw him go with regret; and in this early example of what Lydia’s infamy must produce, found an additional anguish as she reflected on that wretched business.” Pride & Prejudice, Chapt. XLVI. However, Abigail Reynolds takes that tragic moment at the Lambton Inn and gives desperate resolve to both Elizabeth and Darcy allowing them to speak their hearts. Elizabeth declares, “…despite this unfortunate ending, these days in Lambton are ones I will always remember with pleasure.” p.7.

Darcy, equal in his courage asks that she continue her friendship with his sister, “offering her a way to continue their contact by proxy.”” p.8.  They share a comforting embrace, but it is at that exact moment that her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner return and discover such intimacy! After Darcy explains to Mr. Gardiner that he has asked for Elizabeth’s hand months prior– and been refused– both agree to not force Elizabeth into marriage, but allow Darcy time to properly woo her. And so begins this clever twist.

In an endearing exchange of letters between Elizabeth and Darcy’s demure younger sister Georgiana, we begin to see Reynolds’ creative use of humor as light-hearted Elizabeth encourages some rather saucy teasing of Mr. Darcy.

“If your brother is again watching you as you read this, be sure to give an occasional gasp, and to say ‘Oh, no” from time to time, or perhaps ‘she couldn’t possibly!’ Then, when he asks you what is the matter, explain that you could not possibly tell him, since the letter is full of secrets that I begged you to hold in confidence.  Then, if he keeps asking, you may tell him that he may perhaps read the last few sentences, but only if he promises not to look at the rest.” p.48.

Later, when Georgiana is invited to Longbourne, this reserved, quiet girl continues to bloom into a young, playful lady under the attentions of Elizabeth’s silly sisters, Kitty and Mary. In turn, they benefit from the new friendship becoming more confident and mature young women of refined breeding.

In Austen’s original, critics are quick to point out that Miss Elizabeth’s change of heart of Mr. Darcy from repulsion to attraction is rather hurried. However, in Reynolds’ novella, she carefully fleshes out Elizabeth’s struggle within revealing her inner thought process.  Personally, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What’s her problem?” Rich, handsome man who adores her, and who, she discovers, is the preserver of her sister and family from disgrace and is desperate to marry her! I was inclined to prescribe to her Aunt Gardiner’s way of thinking.

I have had an ongoing concern that you seem to underestimate the strength of his attachment to you. I am, in fact, rather glad to see you are suffering just a bit in the name of love, since it tells me that your attachment to him may be becoming the equal of his for you.” p.161.

Although Darcy is portrayed as painfully vulnerable to Elizabeth’s love for much of the novella, I will yield him this one flaw. But, only because of his disastrous first proposal at Hunsford and having previously misinterpreted her so many times. Besides, aren’t we all rather exposed when violently in-love? “I want to bind you to me in every way I know, because I am terrified that you are going to tell me you want nothing further to do with me.” p.155.

This re-issue also includes the addition of four pages at the beginning of the novel fleshing out the backstory that occurred up to this point in Austen’s original novel, and, allowing Darcy to moon incessantly over Elizabeth’s smile. What? I had thought he was bewitched by her fine eyes! Regardless of which part of her anatomy he is gushing over, of all Reynolds’ Pemberley Variations, What Would Mr. Darcy Do? may be my least favorite. In offering a caveat to my disappointment, it is a relative statement and must be understood in its proper context. I own all Reynolds’ self-published as well as Sourcebooks published books – and I adore her “what ifs.” This one pales in comparison To Conquer Mr. Darcy (a.k.a. Impulse & Initiative), or Fitzwilliam Darcy: The Last Man in the World. Not only is it not as epigrammatic as her previous offerings, but Darcy’s continued insecurity, at first sweet, became syrupy, and more importantly, Elizabeth’s perpetual willingness to accept Darcy’s passionate kisses yet reluctance to accept his hand grated against her character.

Astute Janeites will note the omission of Lady Catherine’s pivotal (and highly amusing) confrontation with Miss Elizabeth in the prettyish kind of a little wilderness in Austen’s original and sigh with regret at the missed opportunity for a great sparing of two mighty forces. Nevertheless, there is still plenty of raw emotion, humorous exchanges and romantic interludes to move the story forward and bring Darcy and Elizabeth to their final happy understanding. What Would Mr. Darcy Do is a diverting amusement in the crowded field of Mr. Darcy what ifs, and worthy of your consideration and enjoyment.

4 out of 5 Regency Stars

What Would Mr. Darcy Do?, by Abigail Reynolds
Sourcebooks (2011)
Trade paperback (240) pages
ISBN: 978-1402240935

© 2007 – 2011 Christina Boyd, Austenprose

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig – A Review

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, by Lauren Willig (2011)It is always a very special day when a new Pink Carnation novel is released. I had marked my calendar on January 20th with a big red X in anticipation. Lauren Willig is one the few authors that I just go nuts over. (How unprofessional to gush like a schoolgirl. I will be kind on myself and allow this one indulgence. Well maybe more than one, but that is another story.) The Orchid Affair is Willig’s eighth novel in the popular Pink Carnation series set during the Napoleonic Wars between England and France. They involve historical espionage, romance, swash, buckle and a fair dose of comedy and sardonic wit – neatly ticking off all the check boxes on my ideal historical/romance/comedy reading hit list.

The opening chapters of Orchid were an abrupt change after the high comedy of Willig’s last offering, The Mischief of the Mistletoe. Get ready to shift gears. No Christmas pudding capers here! It is 1802 post-revolutionary Paris. The tone is serious and somber; lots of cold rain, a prison interrogation and a visit by Madame Guillotine. Brrr!

Our heroine Miss Laura Grey is eager to do anything other than the governessing that has consumed her life for the past sixteen years. Recruited by the elusive flower spy, The Pink Carnation, she has just graduated from the Selwick Spy School and traveled to Paris on her first mission to, of course, do what she knows best, be a governess, albeit an undercover one, teaching young children and blending into the woodwork as a servant in the household of an important police official. Undercover as Laure Griscogne’s (code named The Silver Orchid), her assignment is to observe and collect information on the movements of her new employer Andre Jaouen who works at the Prefecture de Paris under Louis-Nicolas Dubois, Chief of Police and protégé of Joseph Fouche, Bonaparte’s Minister of Police. Jaouen and his arch-rival Gaston Delaroche, an agent of Fouche, are investigating a Royalist plot to overthrow the First Consul of France, Napoleon Bonaparte, and reinstate the Bourbon line.

Paris is grim and imposing – a police state – and not at all what Laura remembered from her childhood. Orphaned at sixteen by the untimely death of her artistic parents, famous French sculptor Michel de Griscogne and Italian poetess Chiara de Veneti, Laura has spent the last half of her life earning her bread in the oppressive governess trade in England. Her current employers wife Julie Beniet died four years prior to her arrival and their two young children have until recently been raised by a family friend in the country. Jaouen is suspicious that Laura is a plant in his house by Gaston Delaroche, the mad megalomaniac to sinister Fouche. He does not quite know what to make of this prim, matter-of-fact governess. She on the other hand, is as equally curious of him. Handsome and austere, this disheartened Revolutionist ideals of liberté, égalité and fraternité are now a muddled dream after the coup d’état of Napoleon and his self-installation as First Consul. The age of revolutionary enlightened for both of them is now a regime of terror and fear.

Teaching Latin texts and Aesop’s Fables seem rather dull and un-spy-like to Laura until her employer’s secret meetings, suspicious doings and shocking reveal change the course of her mission. As Andre and Laura put aside their differences, they are forced to flee the city as husband and wife with the children under the cover of traveling performers in a Commedia dell’arte troupe. In hot pursuit is the evil Gaston Delaroche.

As in all of the previous novels in the Pink Carnation series except The Mischief of the Mistletoe, the parallel plot with contemporary scholar Eloise Kelly prompts the historical story as she conducts her own research for her doctoral thesis on the enigmatic British flower spies during the Napoleonic Wars. Her ongoing relationship with Colin Selwick, a direct descendant of the Purple Gentian and the Pink Carnation, brings them to Paris for Colin’s estranged mother’s weekend birthday party. As both plots unfold, will the Pink Carnation’s help be enough to assist Laura and Andre to safety and success, supply Eloise with enough footnotes for her dissertation and the reward of a marzipan pig?

What a fun adventure The Orchid Affair is. Since a ladies imagination is very rapid, I was guessing at plots left and right. Hmm? 1.) Stern widower in a dripping greatcoat and prim impoverished governess? Will there also be mad wife hidden in the attic like Jane Eyre? 2.) Brave widower and prim governess flee nasty government officials? Do they sing next and go mountain climbing like Sound of Music? 3.) Stoic widower and prim governess escape by disguise as actors in a comedy troupe a la Scaramouche? Oh, it doesn’t matter in the least because it is all totally original in the end. I just like playing these mind games. Readers will see the fun too and join in the hunt.

Fans of the series will be pleased to be back in the “Pink” again. As a standalone novel, The Orchid Affair is an historical triumph. Willig is known for her romances, but this really is heavier on the historical fiction than romance aside. It hearkens back deeply to The Scarlet Pimpernel for espionage and swash. A true Anglophile, I didn’t know much about this period of French history until I read For the King this past summer. This novel covers a later period in Napoleon’s reign as First Consul by a few years, but I did recognize many of the same names. Thankfully, less Googling. The research alone must have warranted many trips to the actual Musée des Collections Historiques de la Préfecture de Police in Paris. The detail is quite stunning.

One of Willig’s trademarks is to interlink characters from one novel to the next. It gives the reader a sense of continuity, like one big happy “Pink” family. She has successfully achieved this by introducing a character, albeit briefly, in novel and then highlighting them in another. We meet some old acquaintances here too: Lady Selwick, the Pink Carnation appears, and one of my favorites, Miss Gwendolyn Meadows, Our Lady of the Sharp Umbrella, but the two new protagonists, Laura Grey and Andre Jaouen take up the majority of the narrative, and I could not be happier. They are delightful: both guarded and reserved, they are hiding their real personalities that come to life because of circumstance and association. Their romance is well wrought and touching. Willig’s writing is just, well, awesome. There are few who can surpass her in witty dialogue and imaginative plots. She is top on my list of contemporary authors.

5 out of 5 Regency Stars

The Orchid Affair: A Novel, (The Pink Carnation series No 8), by Lauren Willig
Dutton, Penguin Group (USA)
Hardcover, (400) Pages
ISBN: 978-0525951995