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Friday, August 31, 2012

Buy, Borrow, Skip: a hat-trick of AiA mini-reviews

There are three books Austenesque books I wanted to share with you this year, but just found I didn't have a ton to say about them, good or bad. But I didn't want to leave them out, so instead, I figured we'd wrap up AiA with a neat little hat trick - three quick reviews on all three books, all three of them very different: something for everybody!
These will be brief, spoiler-free, and will end with my overall recommendation.

Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts by Mitzi Szereto
Amazon | Goodreads
Imagine that Jane Austen had written the opening line of her satirical novel Pride and Prejudice this way: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a good romp and a good wife — although not necessarily from the same person or from the opposite sex." In Pride and Prejudice: Hidden Lusts Mr. Darcy has never been more devilish and the seemingly chaste Elizabeth never more turned on.

The entire cast of characters from Austen's classic is here in this rewrite that goes all the way. This time Mr. Bingley and his sister both have designs on Mr. Darcy's manhood; Elizabeth's bff Charlotte marries their family's strange relation and stumbles upon a secret world of feminine relations more to her liking; and, in this telling, men are not necessarily the only dominating sex. And of course there's some good old fashioned bodice ripping that shows no pride or prejudice and reveals hot hidden lusts in every page-turning chapter.

I did a mini-review of this on the vlog, and I called it playful (like a Benny Hill sketch for porn...), and I think that's really what I got from it (and part of why I liked it). It sort of straddles the line between serious and silly, but it's done in a way that works. There are times when authors do parodies, spoofs, or just really random updates/adaptations of a classic, and you can tell that their main goal is to shock and amuse people who didn't like the classic to begin with - you get the feeling that they didn't like the classic to begin with, and that's why they felt the need to spice it up. But I don't get that impression at all from Szereto; as tawdry and bawdy and risque as this book can be, I think Szereto treated the original text with as much reverence as anyone can when turning the characters into sexual playthings. It's like a thinking-person's porn parody: the characters do things that are way out there, but still suited to who they are as a character; it's completely ridiculous and tongue-in-everywhere-cheek, but it works.

This is not for the faint of heart, mind. It's thoroughly blush worthy. Or, fan-worthy, I guess. But when it comes to things like this, I think well-cone ones make you blush and laugh, poorly done ones make you cringe; this made me laugh over and over again. It can be too much at times, just due to the length of the book and pace of the...encounters, but I think those looking for either a really funny, silly, steamy time with their favorite characters won't be disappointed.

Verdict: Buy it if you like some serious smut, get it from the library if you're unsure (but not embarrassed to be seen checking it out...)

*straddles. tongue. length. everything sounds dirty...

Darcy & Fitzwilliam: a Tale of a Gentelman and Officer by Karen V. Wasylowski
Amazon | Goodreads
A gentleman in love cannot survive without his best friend...
Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam couldn't be more different, and that goes for the way each one woos and pursues the woman of his dreams. Darcy is quiet and reserved, careful and dutiful, and his qualms and hesitations are going to torpedo his courtship of Elizabeth. His affable and vivacious cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam is a military hero whose devil-may-care personality hides the torments within, until he finds himself in a passionate, whirlwind affair with a beautiful widow who won't hear of his honorable intentions.

Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other. So it's no surprise when the only one who can help Darcy fix his botched marriage proposals is Fitzwilliam, and the only one who can pull Fitzwilliam out of an increasingly dangerous entanglement is Darcy...

I was really eager for this one: I love the dynamic between Darcy and Col. Fitz, and I wanted to see that explored, as well as get some of the Col's story. Unfortunately, the characters I found in this were practically unrecognizable. Lizzie sometimes devolved into a shrieking harpy, Darcy was sort of neurotic, Lady Catherine was actually kind of awesome (which I liked, but you know...Lady C is not awesome, so again it just furthered the idea that they characters just weren't themselves. But it was Col. Fitzwilliam who was the biggest disappointment. He was boorish, crude, had what I'd almost call a violent temper, and is just all-around not what I wanted or expected. He was an aggressive control-freak who boozed and whored his way through the world on a scale to make Wickham blush, until suddenly he finds himself mad about some woman he doesn't actually know (but who does seem to be right for him, I will give the book that).

I think it honestly would have been better if it only followed Col. F and his life, and just kept the rest of them out of it. Then, maybe I could have believed that he had gone down this really dark path as a result of his war experiences, and I wouldn't have been distracted by the failings of the other characters. I actually did put it down for awhile and tried to school myself to treat it as general historical fiction rather than an Austen adaptation; I was unsuccessful - I just couldn't separate who the characters were from who they were supposed to be. And in the end, it wouldn't have really mattered: the book struggled in tone and atmosphere, too, so I think I still would have been disappointed with it. It was like Karen couldn't decide if she wanted the book to be serious or silly, and as a result it felt sort of schizophrenic. It did have its good moments, and I enjoyed the relationship between Fitz and Amanda (when it wasn't controlling), but the good moments weren't enough to leave a good overall impression. And if I had to hear Fitzwilliam call Darcy "brat" one more time, I would have thrown the damn thing against a wall.

Verdict: Borrow it from the library, if at all.

The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss
Amazon | Goodreads
Lucy Derrick is a young woman of good breeding and poor finances. After the death of her beloved father, she is forced to maintain a shabby dignity as the unwanted boarder of her tyrannical uncle, fending off marriage to a local mill owner. But just as she is on the cusp of accepting a life of misery, events take a stunning turn when a handsome stranger—the poet and notorious rake Lord Byron—arrives at her house, stricken by what seems to be a curse, and with a cryptic message for Lucy. Suddenly her unfortunate circumstances are transformed in ways at once astonishing and seemingly impossible.

With the world undergoing an industrial transformation, and with England on the cusp of revolution, Lucy is drawn into a dangerous conspiracy in which her life, and her country’s future, are in the balance. Inexplicably finding herself at the center of cataclysmic events, Lucy is awakened to a world once unknown to her: where magic and mortals collide, and the forces of ancient nature and modern progress are at war for the soul of England . . . and the world. The key to victory may be connected to a cryptic volume whose powers of enchantment are unbounded. Now, challenged by ruthless enemies with ancient powers at their command, Lucy must harness newfound mystical skills to prevent catastrophe and preserve humanity’s future. And enthralled by two exceptional men with designs on her heart, she must master her own desires to claim the destiny she deserves.

Now, this one is not strictly a Jane Austen retelling, I know. But it is set in Regency England, and it does use a certain Mary Crawford (of Mansfield Park) as a character, so I feel completely justified in including it here. I read a pretty early copy, which I think may have detracted from the book (it sometimes felt a little scattered and I wanted some editing and trimming), but I'm going to set that aside on the assumption that these things were improved (though I guess you never know).  On the whole, I was pleasantly surprised by this. It was very inventive, combining real world events, Regency politics, and figures (like Byron), as well as fictional characters, mythology, and a gothic novel mentality to create an engagingly over-the-top read. Mary Crawford isn't the only thing to get it Austen points, as Liss style was at times decidedly Austenesque, even though his subject matter was not. Though sometimes over-written, much of the time Liss captured something really interesting, and the consistent tone had a great historical feel, even when intentionally historically inaccurate.

The plot was a bit too rambling for my tastes, which is part of what makes me hesitant to whole-heartedly recommend it, and until it really got going, I would put it down and not feel really compelled to pick it up again, which makes it harder for me to push a book. But it has a charm to it that does make me want to recommend it. It reminds me a bit of the Thursday Next books in that, if you are familiar with the literature and goings-on of the time, there are lots of little in-jokes and allusions to keep you amused. If you're not, this may end up really hard to follow. I mean, it's hard to love a book about the Luddite revolution (and how it's actually all related back to magic) if you don't know what a Luddite is. In the end, I think this will really come down to personal preference for people, and whether it will suit them as a reader; it's no the type of book to push on everyone, but for those suited to it, this will be a big hit.

Verdict: Read an excerpt of it at your bookstore/library/online, and if engages you, buy it. If it makes you only curious, borrow it. If it confuses you, skip it.

Click here to be taken to the Austen in August Main Page! Fab button artwork c/o Antique Fashionista!


  1. Ok, my verdict would be:

    1. Borrow it, if you're not easily shocked or offended. It was funny (and I'm glad I knew ahead of time that it was parody) but it was a bit over-the-top.

    2. Buy it! I personally liked this one. Darcy and Lizzy did fight quite a bit, as I recall, but I don't remember Richard being that bad. I loved the relationship between D&F this Lady Catherine made me LOL. Out of character, yes, but I enjoyed it.

    3. Borrow It. I've never heard of this one.

  2. I fancy getting the first one, the sample is really funny, but it's pretty expensive for some reason.

    The second one I'd borrow; I bought it and I felt quite cheated, it's not Darcy and Fitzwilliam, more like somebody who shares the same name as Darcy and Fitzwilliam. I didn't mind the colonel so much but Lizzy and Darcy were awful, particularly Lizzy. And why on earth would you leave a heavily pregnant woman completely alone, it's different these days with telephones etc. Grrrrrr! What was with the screechy fits and violent temper?

    No 3 not heard of, will check out the sample.

  3. I've read number 2. Number 1 and number 3 don't appeal to me in the least.


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