When I tweeted about reading this novel, I got lots of return tweets (well, two or three) assuring me that I would love it. And I should have loved it. I certainly liked it, but it fell short of love for me. The reason? It relied rather too heavily on Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. It kept distracting me from the plot when I would find myself pigeonholing each character into a slot first created by Austen and Bronte, or even Charles Dickens and Daphne du Maurier:
- Ivy Lockwood = Elinor Dashwood, with a dash of Colonel Brandon’s intellectual love of reading (Sense and Sensibility)
- Mrs. Lockwood = Mrs. Dashwood, due to her inability to manage her finances (Sense and Sensibility)
- Lady Marsdel = Lady Catherine de Bourgh, with a dash of humanity (Pride and Prejudice)
- Mr. Wyble = Mr. Collins, without his humanity (Pride and Prejudice)
- Rafferdy = George Wickham, without Wickham’s proclivity for ruining young women (Pride and Prejudice)
- Mr Baydon = almost a perfect copy of Mr. Palmer (Sense and Sensibility)
- Eldyn Garrett = Pip, in that he lets everyone else dictate his life for him (Great Expectations)
- Mr. Quent = Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre).
- Mrs. Darendal = Mrs. Danvers, but less vicious (Rebecca)
The first part of the novel is a fantasy inspired by Sense and Sensibility, with a dash of Pride and Prejudice. The Lockwell sisters are struggling to get by with an infirm father and a distracted mother. Two interesting gentlemen come into their lives (one of which might well end up gay), flirt with them, form attachments with them, and then leave. It was fun and engaging, but ends tragically and without warning, plunging the reader into Jane Eyre.
Here, it turns into a first-person Gothic romance. Mr. Quent is built up to be this huge villain, but then all of that is supposed to be a series of misunderstandings because he’s actually wonderful. Except, he isn’t. He was rather unkind and neglectful to the two children who live with him, and nothing can erase that for me.
It almost felt like Mr. Beckett had written two different books with the same character, and then tried to mash them together.
Make that three, because the third book is another voice altogether, more like the first book, except where it is different. Mr. Quent is almost wholly absent, but Rafferdy is back. And within this book — rather hurriedly — it becomes a true fantasy.
It was engaging enough to keep my interest, but I found parts of it frustrating. I think a lot of Eldyn’s problems with his sister could have been resolved if he has simply spoken truthfully to her. Rafferdy’s stubborn refusal to grow up got vexing. It was kind of fun to try to think of the original literary character who served as inspiration. A lot of people really loved this novel. And given the leisure, I would read the second novel.
Another Jane Austen-inspired fantasy is due out in August, and I have an advance copy. It’s Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, and the blurb claims to be the fantasy that Jane Austen would have written. I’m looking forward to reading it because Ms. Kowal is one of the few short story writers that I actually enjoy reading, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever truly love any novel that is too closely derived from Jane Austen’s. I may be too much of an Austen fan that no other writer can come close.
(And I guess this was kind of a review after all.)