Rating: 4 stars out of 5
When I discovered Marsha Altman’s series last spring, I knew I was in for a great ride. From the very start, I felt a strong connection with this book and the characters she created to live alongside Austen’s own characters. Throughout several posts during the next few weeks on this blog, I will review this series. I will also have Ms. Altman here to join us as a guest on the blog. My hope is to get the good word out about this series, especially now that the tenth and final book of this series was published last October. I know some readers prefer to start a series when the entire series is finished, so I am more than happy to introduce this series to my Just Jane 1813 readers because I can honestly say I spent many, many happy hours enjoying Ms. Altman’s series.
As we begin the first book of this series, Darcy and Bingley are looking forward to their upcoming marriages to the Bennet sisters. In an effort to prepare for his wedding night, Bingley asks Darcy for some advice regarding his future marital relations. Of course, Darcy being Darcy, he relates whatever knowledge he believes will help his friend, as well as Elizabeth’s sister, by handing him a book titled “Kuma Sutra,” which is filled with this sort of advice, along with detailed illustrations. But be not alarmed, Madams, because the story does not contain any explicit adult content and references to this book are mainly used as a point of humor in the story.
As the Darcys and the Bingleys settle into their first year of marriage, we become knowledgeable of their growing relationships and the closeness that develops between the two married couples. In the true spirit of brotherhood, Darcy and Bingley share a bond and a camaraderie that is both entertaining and admirable. Always more like an older brother than a younger one, Darcy is revered by Bingley and often sought after for his advice. When Caroline Bingley brings home an unknown suitor by the name of Lord Kincaid, Darcy is asked again for his support, as he becomes fully immersed in helping Bingley solve the mystery surrounding this “person of interest.”
Through the trials and tribulations of this first year, we come to see how the young newlyweds’ lives unfold, as they find themselves in unexpected predicaments solved only through the cleverness of their minds and the courage of their hearts.
Were some of these scenes a bit far-fetched? Absolutely! Did I enjoy them nonetheless? Yes, I did. Is this “Pride and Prejudice” sequel written for Austen purists? Probably not. However, I have enjoyed a wide range of JAFF, including those stories written for Austen purists, and I can still say I really enjoyed this book and felt compelled to read the next book in this series after reading this one.
For me, I enjoyed the humour between these characters, as the banter is well-written and feels pretty true to canon in the ways that the characters related to one another. Darcy is still the proud, wealthy landowner we love, although he has more of a sense of humor here and appears to enjoy his drinks with regular frequency, and Bingley is still the happy, friendly gentleman who is able to laugh at himself when the going gets tough. Jane and Elizabeth are sisters in every sense of the word and their relationship is one of the strongest parts of the first several books in this series. As they learn how to navigate the world as newly married women, they share a bond that only deepens with time.
We also spend time with extended members of their families, which adds to the enjoyment of the various storylines. Mr. Bennet comes to visit Pemberley, which is a scenario I always enjoy. His time with the Darcy family proves to be quite the adventure, as he and Elizabeth share in some mischevious plots. As always, their unforgettable bond continues to shine through the pages of this book and is another strength of this series.
Darcy and Elizabeth receive a good share of the story and their relationship evolves in a steady and loving manner. They have their share of challenges, but together they are a couple whose relationship is built on trust, lots of teasing, and a respect that continues to grow throughout their story. I really came to love the Darcy and Elizabeth relationship that is explored throughout this series and which serves as a large focus of the first five books in this series.
By the end of the first book, I felt that the series started to become more about Ms. Altman’s vision for her characters and I am quite comfortable with her vision. Her new characters who also join this series, some starting in this book, are well-developed and very interesting people within their own rights. I also love what she did with Caroline Bingley’s character, which is a character that I tend to dislike in many JAFF books, even though I’m pretty sure that’s how many authors want us to feel about her character. From my perspective, she provides Caroline with a storyline that is endearing and enjoyable on its own merits. Yet, she doesn’t turn her into an overly sweet or overly obnoxious person. I found Caroline’s character to be based on character traits that struck a good balance between those which felt realistic and those that were more than tolerable.
As the series progressed for me, I found I loved it even more and I look forward to sharing more reviews of this series in future posts.
Looking for a little sample before you start this series? Ms. Altman shares an excerpt below from Chapter 1:
Charles Bingley, a man in possession of fortune and of good standing, had been for several years now in want of a wife. Now he stood at the culmination of his efforts and found it almost alarming.
For the first time in many years, the shooting season had passed, and Charles Bingley didn’t give it a second thought. He had to look his best at all times for the numerous guests that were filling his hours. Normally, hosting was something he did gladly, but other forces were pulling him in directions away from his abominable guests and well-wishers.
This must be how Darcy feels all the time, he mused, and allowed himself a rare smile-rare in that it was at the expense of his friend. For he had no doubt that whatever sufferings he was enduring at Netherfield by having the flux of people and priorities keep him from his beloved Jane, Darcy was probably feeling them more, because Darcy went into the intense period of social events with a predisposition against them. As a guest in Bingley’s estate, he was normally entitled to all of the privacy he wished and could hide in his room with a pile of books for all Bingley cared. But that was not the case when one was engaged in what was looking to be a rather controversial wedding.
Perhaps controversial was not the right word, but Bingley chose it anyway, at least in his own mind. Certainly, there were those who opposed it, but none that he and Darcy were not willing to stand up to. He could never have imagined his unshakable best friend bending to the will of his aunt and marrying Anne de Bourgh, but then again, he also could never have imagined his friend falling in love with someone deemed below his station by the world at large. If anything, the master of Pemberley was more than aware of his station and the social standing that he was required to maintain, something Bingley would not wish on himself for the doubling of accounts that it would bring.
So, it seemed, life was full of surprises, because Darcy was quite possibly more in love with Elizabeth than Bingley was with Jane, even if he was being subtle about it and apparently had been since the moment they met. Only after much teasing and a persevering interrogation did Fitzwilliam Darcy admit to falling in love with her at first sight, of all places and times, and he only admitted it with a passion in his eyes that indicated that, if Charles Bingley were not his best friend and companion, he would be inclined to thrash him with his walking stick for asking such a question.
But even all of his purported and very real hauteur and intimidating posture and grace could not save poor Mr. Darcy from the necessities of prenuptial social business. There were the trips to Longbourn that were not frequent enough and the various well-wishers (and non-well-wishers) streaming into Netherfield that were all too frequent. He also had to travel to London no less than three times in a month for reasons of finance management and general legal wedding preparations. Bingley, a man of smaller fortune, only had to go once and entrusted to his steward that all the rest would be well.
In fact, it had reached such an extreme that standing in his room, waiting for the appearance of his waistcoat, Charles Bingley could not think of two or three words he had spoken to Darcy in the past day, despite living under the same roof. Not that he was totally unaccustomed to absences, and not that he was helpless without the person whom he would never bring himself to call-to his face, anyway-a sort of elder brother, but he could think of no better way to idle away the time which they were forced to be away from their respective fiancées by social circumstance than talking, even if it was idle chatter that would result in Bingley quite knowingly running his mouth off and Darcy impatiently rolling his eyes. That, at least, would be a bit relaxing in its own way.
No, there would be no return to normalcy. In three days, they would no longer be eligible bachelors who were the talk of every ball. Bingley’s beloved sister would no longer be batting her eyelashes at his best friend (or, at least, Bingley hoped she wouldn’t), and he would not be returning the favour with dismissive witticisms. All right, Bingley admitted he was a bit oblivious at times, but he was not dim-witted, even if he had missed Darcy’s obsession with Elizabeth Bennet. But then again, everyone had missed that, probably including Darcy himself. Darcy was jubilant when writing to his sister of the arrangement, and he took great pains to make his face even more unreadable than usual when he gave the grave news to Caroline Bingley. It was a masterpiece of a performance and went well with Charles’s considerable relief that he didn’t have to do it himself. All cousins, sisters, distant relatives, attendants, hired planners, paperwork officials, and local guests made two matters particularly vexing for the normally invisible Charles Bingley. First, and most obviously, despite the many trips to Longbourn, he could not get nearly as much time with Jane as he would have liked, but he was assured that he had the rest of his life to make up for it. The second matter was more pressing, if less emotionally invested: he needed Darcy, alone.
It took him several weeks to admit even to himself that he had questions that were better answered before the wedding and that Darcy was the best person to answer them. He was lacking a father-though that would have been an awkward situation anyway-and Mr. Hurst was, he decided, with all of his good manners and intentions, the last person he wanted to ask. That left his friend, confidant, and evermore-experienced-at-everything brother figure. If he could just get him alone long enough to properly work up the courage to ask the appropriate questions, then all would be well. Darcy wouldn’t answer, of course. He would look indignant and find some reason to stomp off or find no reason at all and still stomp off. Or maybe, maybe, he would actually have some advice that could be pried out with excessive trying.
And Bingley was ready to try.
I would like to offer Just Jane 1813 readers an opportunity to win a paperback copy of this book to help you get started on this delightful series. Please leave a comment below about this excerpt to enter this giveaway by midnight ET on January 25, 2016. The winner will be announced on this blog on January 26, 2016. This giveaway is open to all Just Jane 1813 readers.
Thank you to Marsha Altman for sharing this excerpt with us and for writing a JAFF series that gave me more hours of pleasurable reading than I could possibly count!