This is a Pride & Prejudice retelling published in three volumes, and the three volume bit is probably my biggest beef with this story, as it was obviously only done in order to milk more money out of the story, as it could easily have been condensed to two volumes, or one long story… anyway.
Overall, I actually really enjoyed this story. Volume One begins with Elizabeth at home just after her trip to Hunsford. In this story, when Elizabeth goes to her father and asks him to not let Lydia go to Brighton, her father initially blows her off, like he does in the original, but then begins to wonder if she has a point. He goes to find Elizabeth in the garden, and they discuss not only Lydia, but also Mr. Darcy’s letter, which Elizabeth lets him read. This sets the groundwork for a few changes around the Bennett homestead. Next, when the Gardiners postpone their trip to the Lakes, it’s because Mrs. Gardiner is pregnant, so Elizabeth goes to London to help around the house. There, she runs back into Mr. Darcy again, and their relationship begins to develop from that point forward.
I really enjoyed the characterizations in this version. No one was wildly evil or ridiculously perfect. While people like Lady Catherine and Miss Bingley were pretty obnoxious, it still felt within the realm of plausibility. Both Darcy and Elizabeth were well-drawn characters who changed and grew throughout the story. I also really appreciated how Sims made some of the other characters more sympathetic – while Mrs. Bennett is no less obnoxious (most of the time), there is some definite understanding of her genuine and not-unreasonable terror as to what might happen to her and her daughters should Mr. Bennett die unexpectedly. I especially liked how it is Darcy who really comes to realize this, because it makes his patience with his future mother-in-law feel more natural, and adds to Darcy’s depth as he begins to realize how casually he has accepted a lot of ‘the way things are’ type of things without really thinking about them.
The overall helplessness/dependence of women at the time is touched on throughout the story in a way that felt organic to the story rather than polemic, and also fit with the overall thoughts of the times – at this point, women like Elizabeth are really just interested in being viewed as fully intelligent human beings who are capable of making decisions about their own futures, not running the government and owning businesses. I also liked how while some of the men in the story take evil advantage over the women in their lives, many of them, like Darcy, have been taught the importance of protecting/shielding/providing for their women, and believe that the decisions they are making are for the best for them – and, in truth, there were a lot of women, like Mrs. Bennett, who could really use some taking care of!
The ‘tapestry’ bit of the story involves Sims going off onto long and tangled tangents telling the backstories of basically all of the characters – Lady Catherine, Mr. Bennett, the Gardiners, the Earl of Matlock, you name it. I had mixed feelings about these stories. Overall I liked them and felt like they did add to the main thrust of the tale, but sometimes they weren’t woven in very well, and it was a little unclear when the narrative was shifting from the past to the present. Sims also has a habit of telling about a few days from, say, Elizabeth’s perspective, and then switching and telling us what someone else, like Darcy, was doing during the same time period, but again it isn’t always clear when the overlap is occurring and when the story is actually progressing beyond that time frame, so at times it got a little confusing. But on the whole I felt like these backstories and multiple layers for the same time periods really did add a lot of depth to the story and its characters.
Volume One is from just after Hunsford through Darcy’s more successful proposal; Volume Two spans their engagement; and Volume Three follows the early days of wedding bliss. The third volume was definitely the weakest. Too many stories had already been mostly concluded in Volume Two, so Volume Three felt a lot clunkier and was less interesting. It was also the volume with the most villainy, with a couple of evil viscounts wrecking havoc (completely separate from each other) in a way that didn’t really fit into the rest of the story. The ending involved a very long and drawn out bit with Mrs. Bennett dying that meant that this whole big long story kind of ended on a downer note. I’m also never a fan of really long epilogues that try to fill in lots of details about the rest of everyone’s lives, so that bit was also pretty boring to me. Overall, I felt like the story could have ended about a quarter of the way through Volume Three and been much better.
There were other things that annoyed me, and a few threads that never really seemed to go anywhere (e.g. Mrs. Hill’s illegitimate son), but on the whole this was a well-written and engaging P&P variation that I quite enjoyed, and may even read again sometime. 4/5 and recommended if you actually enjoy crazy P&P retellings. ;-)