Darcy relaxed a bit. “The old Thompson place?” She answered with a nod. “You’re one of Tom Bennet’s daughters? I was told he had a herd of them.” Almost immediately he recognized how his choice of words could be considered an insult, but it was too late.
The girl’s voice was ice cold. “Tom Bennet is indeed my father, sir, and I thank you for your kind observations about my family. Now, if you’ll pardon me.” She pulled her reins to return from whence she came, only to be halted by Darcy’s words.
“I’ll escort you back to the ford, miss, if you don’t mind.”
She looked over her shoulder at him. “I do mind. You’ve made it clear that I’m not welcomed here, and I can see myself home. Good day.”
(from Pemberley Ranch, pages 23-24 in the ARC)
Now that I’ve read so many retellings of and sequels to Jane Austen’s novels, particularly Pride and Prejudice, I’m worried that I’m going to tire of the books that have become my guilty pleasure. I just love revisiting Austen’s characters — although these books will never outshine the originals — and the more unique, the better.
Pemberley Ranch is the first Austen retelling I’ve encountered that is written by a man, and that alone grabbed my attention. Jack Caldwell takes the basics of Pride and Prejudice — the misunderstandings of a stubborn young woman and an arrogant young man from two different worlds who find themselves unexpectedly attracted to one another — and makes the story his own.
Set just after the Civil War, Will Darcy is a Confederate officer who returns to Texas to run the family cattle ranch and care for his younger sister, Gaby. Beth Bennet’s family — father Tom, mother Fanny, and sisters Jane, Mary, Kathy, and Lily — leave Meryton, Ohio, for a farm in Rosings, Texas. Beth and Will’s first meeting is less than pleasant, with Beth caught riding her horse on Pemberley land, and it doesn’t help that carpetbagger and scoundrel George Whitehead, a friend of the Bennet family, has nothing but rotten things to say about Will.
Stories about the Wild West aren’t usually my thing, but Pemberley Ranch was a book I just could not put down. Using only the barest skeleton of Pride and Prejudice, Caldwell builds a story with romance, murder, unscrupulous business dealings, post-war Union vs. Confederate tension, segregation, and the lingering horrors and loss of war. I found Caldwell’s rewriting of Austen’s characters to be especially interesting, with Mr. Collins turned into banker Billy Collins, Bingley into a doctor, George Wickham into deed recorder George Whitehead, Col. Fitzwilliam into Pemberley ranch hand Fitz, Lady Catherine into the ruthless ranch owner Cate Burroughs, and Charlotte Lucas into the daughter of the sheriff. Caldwell also pays homage to other Austen heroes, with characters named Henry Tilney, Edmund Bertram, and Mr. Knightly, which I thought was a nice touch.
Pemberley Ranch is an engaging read on its own, and I forgot early on that I was reading a retelling of Pride and Prejudice. But I must admit it was fun to picture Mr. Darcy as a handsome cowboy with a twang and to see all the shady characters in Austen’s novel portrayed as being truly evil. Caldwell does an admirable job balancing the lightness of the romance with the darkness of dirty deeds in a small town. You definitely don’t need to have read or even loved Pride and Prejudice to enjoy Pemberley Ranch, and while most people will read it because its an Austen reimagining, Caldwell should get some credit for being a talented storyteller in his own right.
Disclosure: I received Pemberley Ranch from Sourcebooks for review.
© 2010 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.