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Monday, August 26, 2013

IMPULSE & INITIATIVE by Abigail Reynolds | review

By now we know I'm a fan of the "what ifs" and Abigail Reynolds' Pemberely Variations series, but it wasn't always so... Click through to see how things have changed for me as a Janeite, and what happens when Darcy and Lizzie can't keep their hands off each other...
And don't forget to go enter to win Mr Darcy's Noble Connections and Mr Darcy's Undoing (coming soon!)

Impulse & Initiative by Abigail Reynolds
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"Pemberley Variation," 411 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Sourcebooks Landmark
In Jane Austen's classic Pride & Prejudice, Mr. Darcy gives up on winning the woman he loves after she refuses him.

"What if ..."
Instead of disappearing from Elizabeth Bennet's life after she refused his offer of marriage, Mr. Darcy had stayed and tried to change her mind?

"What if ..."
Lizzy, as she gets to know Darcy, finds him undeniably attractive and her impulses win out over her sense of propriety?

"What if ..."
Madly in love and mutually on fire, their passion anticipates their wedding? In Impulse & Initiative, instead of avoiding Elizabeth after his ill-fated marriage proposal, Mr. Darcy follows her back to her home in Hertfordshire, planning to prove to her he is a changed man and worthy of her love. And little by little, Elizabeth begins to find the man she despised becoming irresistible...

Exploring the roads not taken in Pride and Prejudice, Abigail Reynolds picks up from a pivotal point in Pride and Prejudice - Mr. Darcy's botched marriage proposal - and imagines lively plot twists and ecstatically happy endings.

I've said a number of times that I love Abigail Reynolds stories, but I have a confession to make: it wasn't always so. Now, hear me out - I spent half a dozen+ years obsessively reading and rereading Austen's books before I knew there was such a thing as an adaptation or retelling. I stumbled upon them completely by accident when I was looking for more authors similar to Austen via a book recommender. To learn that people had actually taken Austen's worlds and characters and written new stories... well, needless to say, I was equal parts excited and dubious (and a little unsure of whether that was even legal? Haha).  Of course, like any desperate Austenite, I checked out a stack of about 20 of these books from my local library, and decided I was going to have a "Summer of Jane"... This was 2008, pre-blog, and I needed a project. So I sat outside every day in the glorious weather and just read and read and read...and the more I read, the more disheartened I became. This wasn't my Austen. This wasn't my Darcy, my Lizzie. It wasn't the world and the manners I'd come to know... What was this? Every book I read made me more convinced that Austenesque fanfiction wasn't for me, and if I hated one, I hated them all. (It was too fresh, you see. I couldn't allow for such mucking about in my beloved stories.) One good traditional retelling and one good playful modern story would change that, and teach me to let go and have some fun with it (and, um... you've seen the result of that), but before those 2 stories convinced me to give it a chance, I couldn't seem to like the adaptations I'd read. And unfortunately, Impulse & Initiative was one of them.

Flash forward to 5 years later, when I have decidedly embraced the whooooooole genre - and still devote my summers to it - and I found myself kinda in love with these stories, these "Pemberely Variations," that Abigail Reynolds writes.  And I was on the hunt for more, so while browsing on Better World Books, I came across one with a familiar title: Impulse & Initiative. I'd blocked out most of what I read That Summer, but Goodreads informed me that I'd read this one (or thought I had), and hadn't been too impressed. Figuring that it'd come at the height of my denial phase, when I wasn't willing to accept any sexytimes in my P&P, I thought I'd better buy it and give it another chance. And I'm certainly glad I did.  (I probably need to track down all of the books I read that summer and give them another, less prejudiced* chance.)

Impulse & Initiative, which has since been republished as To Conquer Mr Darcy - and I have no idea if the story was changed at all for the repackaging - is a story that takes a more controversial (to my Regency sensibilities) variation, in that Darcy and Lizzie can't keep their flipping hands off each other before they're married. It's smexy. And though I like a fair dose of smexy on occasion now, it was too akin to a bodice-ripper then, and I was a book snob. I'll admit it. It probably is too much sexytimes for some readers, especially those who still hold Darcy and Lizzie - and the pace of Regency courtship - sacred, so reader, know thyself, and know that going in. But though it does take away some of the sweetness of the romance, and though it does replace it with a liberal smattering of lusty kisses and, you know, bodice ripping, it's really neat to see Reynolds attack the same story from yet another angle.

This time around, I appreciated the idea of Darcy not taking no for an answer - not in an aggressive, pushy Lord of the Manor way, but in an "I'm not going to let myself eff this up" way. I liked seeing him pursue Lizzie and actively try to win her over, and come out of his shell a bit. It's an interesting - and not entirely unbelievable - way to approach the story, and it's nice because it's active; we don't have to be told that Darcy goes away and changes offstage, we get to see the efforts and the fruits of those efforts, right there as they happen. It's fun to see Lizzie, too, won over despite herself. It's nice to see them both come a little undone, and frankly, there are times when it's hot as hell.

The key to enjoyment of Reynolds' Variations - the key to any retelling, really - is to allow yourself to go with it. I love exploring the "what-ifs" in any story, all the branching paths and possibilities and might-have-beens. And though sometimes those might-have-beens are probably best left as should-nots, in Reynolds' hands, there's always enough understanding of the characters and love of their stories and who they are, combined with a willingness to push that a bit and test those boundaries, that makes for really interesting, fresh, dependably enjoyable variations. And if you find things too far-fetched on occasion, too sexy or too straying-from-"reality," the fact is, Reynolds' writing is compulsively readable. She moves the reader along at a break-neck pace, making it near impossible not to devour her books in one sitting. And even if she changes things, and even if you can't be quite happy with every change that's made, she creates worlds and characters that, if you're anything like me, you can't help but love and find yourself craving rereads of.

So, all I can say is: Misty-of-5-years-ago, and Janeites out there who feel as she felt - lighten up. Let go, explore the possibilities, and if you can't bear to see your Darcy and your Lizzie do things you don't think they'd do, then pretend they're someone else. Because you're missing out on some good stories and some scenes that would set your Regency heart a-flutter. You're invited to the party, so come. You're missing all the fun.

*Told you I was a Lizzie... ;)

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  1. I know exactly what you mean; looking back, the first few Austenesque books I read I judged a bit harshly because it all seemed like Jane sacrilege, but after a while you are able to let things slide a bit. One of these first books was an Abigail Reynolds, Force of Instinct and I thought the first half of the book was fantastic - and then things started to happen that I wasn't happy with, as although I could go with some events I thought the way it happened was out of character. When I plucked up courage to try another Abigail Reynolds book not only was I quite a few Austenesque books down the road so was happier to deviate from P&P more, but I'd also chosen one that was more in keeping with my view of the characters (Mr Darcy's Obsession, highly recommend!). I've read more Abigail Reynolds books since, including this one, although I read it as To Conquer Mr Darcy, and I generally really enjoy them. I've not read Force of Instinct since but I wonder if I did now would I enjoy it more, now I'm more willing and able to go with it?

    1. I just added Mr Darcy's Obsession to my wishlist on Better World Books! I'll be keeping an eye out for a copy. =D

  2. By the luck of the draw, my first baby steps into Austenesque fiction drew me in rather than repulsed me. I think if I had picked up spicier tellings then I wouldn't have been ready for them at the time too. I happened to pick up a trio of books written by Pamela Aiden and told P&P from Darcy's POV that led me to a duology by Susan Kaye with Captain Wentworth's POV and that led me to a fun romp with Elizabeth Elliot as the heroine by Laura Hile. From there, I just let my hair down and tried all sorts of them including Abigail Reynolds' stories.

    1. I still haven't read anything by Pamela Aiden! I know a lot of people consider her one of the most faithful and traditional, I really need to pick something up.
      (Actually, I need to read all 3 ladies you mentioned - especially as I've had the other 2 on the blog before!)

  3. My first Austenesque book was .... Mr Darcy takes a Wife. Bwahahahaha. It says on the back wooooaaaa Darcy. I didn't get that when I picked the book up. Now I do. Boy do I. Anyhoo, despite that ... interesting choice... I've since read a couple of mysteries and actually picked up this one and the Fitzwilliam Darcy one you read over and over again because of the Vlog review. So, getting ready to jump in.

    1. I had both of those first 2 books by Linda Berdoll, and I was so disgusted with them that I got rid of them. (This was in those early, no-sexytimes-for-Darcy! days...) Now I wish I'd kept them to give them another try. At the very least, they could have made a part of my collection.
      I just couldn't get past all the cheesy euphemisms...

    2. "Mr Darcy Takes A Wife" was my first Austen adaptation too! It was recommended to me by a coworker who knew I loved Austen. The moment I read Berdoll's intro that said she would pick up the story where my beloved (but unmarried) Austen left off, I knew she was going to take us for a ride...riding breeches and all!
      I have really enjoyed Reynolds' adaptations. "Last Man In The World" is still my favorite, although I hear "Noble Connections" is fantastic too.

  4. Haha! The first time I read a sexy P&P I was shocked! LOL! But, I quickly got over it. ;)

    Another interesting fact about "Impulse and Initiative" is that there is a variation of it called "The Rule of Reason" (actually, I think Abigail wrote it first.) It's almost word for word the same until about the middle of the book where it turns and goes an entirely different direction. I loved this version! ...well, I love them both! :) I don't believe there is any bodice-ripping for those who don't care for that.

    My two favorites of Abigail's books are "From Lambton to Longbourn" (my first of Abigail's) and "Mr. Darcy's Refuge". But, they are all really good! :) I love rereading them!

    1. Really? A variation of a variation?! Hmm, I'm going to have to track that down, that could be really interesting...

    2. You can get Rule of Reason from lulu.com. I got it after Candy recommended it. Like you say it's interesting to see how two variations that start off the same can branch off in different directions.

      That is one thing I really like about variations, and something that I think Abigail Reynolds in particular goes very well is that once a variation happens it has repercussions, like throwing a stone in a pond makes ripples, one change that may seem small at first could send the story off somewhere else entirely.

      I also read the first of the Linda Berdoll books, and like you, it was one of the first I read. I had the uncomfortable feeling that Jane Austen must've been spinning in her grave. I will admit to you that I found it entertaining, but to do that I had to pretend that it wasn't her characters!

    3. Yes, she DOES do the repercussions well, and that's what I love about her stories. It's also why I'm not as bothered by any changes I see in the characters - it makes sense to go with it, and see how different experiences make them different people.

      Re Linda Berdoll: I don't feel like they were Austen's characters, which was a big part of the problem I had with the book, aside from the (over)sexualization. But as I said, I'm curious what I'd think of it now, so many years down the road.

  5. Thanks for the lovely review, Misty. To Conquer Mr. Darcy is the same as the Sourcebook edition of Impulse & Initiative, which has some minor changes from the Intertidal Press edition of Impulse & Initiative. Is that complicated enough? ;) True confession time: I was also shocked the first time I read sexy Austen-inspired fiction, and it took me a couple of years to come around. These days my books tend to be less sexy, but it all depends on where the characters take the story!

  6. One of the pains of reading a wonderful story is that we have to say good-bye to the characters at the end of the book (or series), so it's great that we can visit with Austen's characters a bit more through all of the "Pemberley Variations" that have been written.

  7. Isn't it interesting to see your own perspective change after an extended length of time? So glad Sanditon and Austenland brought you around to the world of Austenesque!

    Excellent point about how Darcy doesn't go off stage...I think that is what makes it all the more appealing. How we see more of him and can understand him better too! Great review!

  8. This book was one of my first forays into JAFF and I loved it (and re-read it, and Reynolds others books, quite often). I love that we get to tag along for the Darcy-changing ride, and the courtship is such a fun twist! And boy, can Reynolds write a smexy Darcy!

    And I love the idea of just pretending the characters aren't Austen's Darcy and Lizzie, because there are so many fun JAFF reads out there!


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