Can love once lost, truly ever be rekindled in one’s own heart?
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
I love finding new treasures within the sea of JAFF published each and every month. Sometimes, that JAFF book is highly anticipated, as readers buzz online about the book well before its publication date. Sometimes, you’re just lucky enough to have a JAFF friend who searches websites, such as Amazon, browsing for the next great JAFF read and she shares her great discoveries with you. I was fortunate that this was the case for me when Sheila, my reading friend, recommended “Ardently,” after she found it online.
To say I was swept away into the storyline may be an understatement. I think I stopped everything I was doing, as I found myself sitting across the breakfast table from Mr. Bennet and his daughters, as they discussed the recent events in the newspaper. A very startling moment occurred next, when I found out that you-know-who was married to someone else. Sigh… how could this have happened? It just couldn’t be! Next thing I knew, my bags were packed, and I was off to visit Mr. Bennet’s sister, Mrs. Mountford, in Staffordshire, where I figured I could spend some time with Elizabeth Bennet, and work through my, err, our heartache and despair.
A few years later, and I found us all together in Bath, taking in the scenes and the sights alongside Bath’s distinguished guests. Looking through the arrivals book, I was able to glance at the names of the visitors, who had descended upon the city in an effort to rub shoulders and be seen amongst the members of England’s first circles. I never expected any of our Netherfield friends gathered here, or did I? And now that they had seen us as well, would we be forced to spend time in each other’s company once again?
“Ardently” is the story of love found, lost and rediscovered again, several years after Mr. Darcy’s botched marriage proposal to Elizabeth Bennet in Kent. Here in “Ardently,” Darcy and Elizabeth have never met at Pemberley, and they both have taken vastly different paths into their futures. This is not a scenario frequently explored in JAFF books, so I felt compelled to find out how the storyline would unfold in this book. I found myself immediately drawn in by the humor and clever dialogue between Elizabeth and Mrs. Mountford, as well as the lively friendship shared between these two women. Here we have two strong, intelligent, and outspoken women, who serve as each other’s companions throughout the story. Mrs. Mountford is a welcome change from the serene character of Jane Bennet and the overly boisterous Mrs. Bennet. Her observations and insights about Elizabeth felt spot-on and rounded out Elizabeth’s character in a way that only their intimate knowledge of each other during the past four years could within this story.
As soon as Darcy and Elizabeth meet at the theatre, there’s an unspoken connection between them that neither one is willing to divulge to other people. Difficult memories and bittersweet feelings about their time together four years ago in Kent hang in the air, as thick and cloudy as the steam from the Roman baths. Elizabeth finds herself searching for the right words to learn more about Darcy’s marriage and Darcy finds himself raging with conflicting emotions towards this older, more mature Elizabeth Bennet. Each one taunts him/herself developing theories and ideas about each other, while their struggles remain mostly elusive to those around them, as they find themselves thrown into each other’s company throughout their visit to Bath.
Elizabeth’s life seems to take a promising turn toward matrimony when she meets the handsome, eligible bachelor, Mr. Yorke, who is besotted with Elizabeth from the very first moment he sees her at the theater. He’s also somewhat familiar with Darcy, and has two sisters who are longing to meet the dark and brooding Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth decides to pursue her own decided attraction to Mr. Yorke, while she develops a friendship with his sisters. Throughout this process, she becomes conflicted regarding her intentions and her very own heart. Are both men who they seem to be and can she handle the idea that her future may become something she hadn’t planned for herself?
Caitlin Williams does a gorgeous job painting for us a picture of a mature and tender love story, set against the backdrop of the city of Bath in South West England; a city founded in the 1st century AD by the Romans, who used the natural hot springs as a thermal spa. It was during the 18th century, under the reign of George I, II and III, that Bath was developed into an elegant spa city and to this day, is rich in historic details, including public buildings regarded for their Neo-classical style of architecture throughout the city. As the characters meet and mingle throughout the numerous settings and streets within Bath, readers get a real sense for the city’s luxurious setting and the indulgent lifestyles of those who are there to savor its pleasures. I found this setting both romantic and fitting for the context of this story.
I loved how Ms. Williams slowly revealed significant details about her character’s lives, in an effort to keep the plot suspenseful and somewhat mysterious throughout the story. Each time one of these details was revealed, often through well-crafted dialogue or the events being shared about the characters lives during the past four years since “Pride and Prejudice,” it felt like important pieces of the puzzle were being provided to help the reader navigate his/her own feelings and reactions towards the characters and the events unfolding in the book. This story was such a page-turner, and the more I read, the more I felt compelled to keep reading, because I needed to know how the characters would fare within the plot. The book is about 200 pages long, so the story is short enough to read in one long sitting, yet long enough to feel pleasantly submersed into its events and lively setting.
Some readers have cited a tone found in “Ardently” that is similar to “Austen’s popular book, “Persuasion.” I agree that the similarities between the stories are certainly there for me, as well. Ms. William does a wonderful job giving us a look into how a more mature and more reflective Darcy and Elizabeth may have fared if they had both decided to part ways after Kent and then, accidentally reconnected with each other several years later. Does absence and time make the heart grow fonder or does it allow a deep bitterness to develop that changes the very core of our deepest feelings?
I loved witnessing how their own self-awareness evolved, leading them both to become even more conflicted at times in this story and how the little things they soon discovered about each other and their relationship, really helped change their perceptions and feelings for each other. Poor Elizabeth, worried after hearing a comment, that she’s lost her bloom at 24 years old. Is she to follow the fate of our very own Jane Austen, and become a spinster. Can one hope for love and happiness through a maze of misunderstandings and remorse?
After 95 reviews on Amazon, “Ardently” can claim having 95% four (19%) and five star (76%) reviews. That is quite a success for a debut JAFF author, who I believe promises to become a popular name in this genre. With a story that gripped at my heart until the very final pages, I highly recommend “Ardently” to JAFF fans. For those who love “Persuasion,” this may be an even more compelling read for you. Either way, readers will be swept up into this glorious, ancient city, savoring a clever and romantic “Pride and Prejudice” variation that made my heart and mind race with an intensity that I loved.
For this special holiday event, the talented and lovely Caitlin Williams wrote a Christmas short story, based on this book, exclusively for Just Jane 1813 readers. If you’ve read “Ardently” and you’re curious to read a glimpse into these character’s lives a few years later, read today’s post titled “Even More Ardently,” by Caitlin Williams. It’s a beautiful companion story to “Ardently” that I am thrilled to share with all of our readers!
Caitlin Williams would also like to offer a giveaway of her ebook “Ardently” to our Just Jane 1813 readers. Please enter in the comments below by telling us what other Austen book, besides “Pride and Prejudice,” you enjoy reading variations based on in JAFF. Please have all comments submitted by December 15th. Our giveaway winner will be announced on this blog on December 16, 2015.
I’d like to thank Caitlin Williams for writing an unforgettable “Pride and Prejudice” variation , and especially for taking the time to write this lovely Christmas story based on “Ardently,” exclusively for our readers. It’s a busy time of year, yet I truly appreciate that she took the time to create this gift for all of our readers. Also, be on the lookout for a new book by Ms. Williams, early in 2016.
“Ardently” can be purchased at the link below: