Buford grunted. “You and Denny have reconciled, I take it?”
“Yes, he is a good sort of fellow, in his way,” Fitzwilliam allowed.
“Even though he is friends with Wickham?” Buford goaded him.
Richard’s eyes were on his plate. “I suppose I cannot hold that against him. After all, I eat with you.”
It took a full glass of wine to relieve Sir John after he choked on his food.
(from The Three Colonels, page 305 in the uncorrected advance copy; finished version may be different)
Jack Caldwell’s latest novel, The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, is a sequel of sorts to both Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility. It focuses on Colonel Fitzwilliam from Pride and Prejudice, Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility, and Colonel Sir John Buford, a character of Caldwell’s creation. With Napoleon exiled to Elba, the three friends have returned to England to pursue political careers, manage their estates, and focus on matters of the heart.
Colonel Brandon is smitten with his infant daughter, Joy, and content in his marriage to Marianne. Colonel Fitzwilliam must visit his aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh to figure out why her estate is on the skids. Colonel Buford, notorious for his liaisons with married women of the ton, sets out to reform himself and find a wife.
When Napoleon escapes from Elba, the three colonels must once again go off to war. Colonel Brandon wonders why they need an old man like himself to fight and leaves Delaford Manor in the capable hands of his wife. Colonel Buford must leave behind his new bride, Caroline Bingley, and Colonel Fitzwilliam leaves many things unsaid to Anne de Bourgh as all hell breaks loose at Rosings Park. All three women understand the importance of being strong for their men, as war is more than enough for them to worry about, but they struggle to come to terms with the fact that the colonels might never come back.
Caldwell does a great job bringing all these characters together, all of them connected by friendship or kinship to Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, who play an important part in the story but stay mostly in the background. Where The Three Colonels shines is in its transformation of Anne de Bourgh from a meek, sickly girl to a force to be reckoned with and in creating a repentant, sympathetic Caroline Bingley. (How delighted I was, though, to see that Caldwell left some ice in Caroline’s veins when it came to a certain Mrs. Norris.)
The Three Colonels goes beyond the novels of Jane Austen to take readers onto the battlefield, where even Wickham makes an appearance. After reading what these men experienced, you can’t picture them merely as handsome uniforms attracting the attention of ladies seeking dance partners. Caldwell adds substance to what otherwise might be only a romance novel pairing up Austen’s secondary characters.
I appreciate the touch of masculinity that Caldwell adds to Austen’s novels in The Three Colonels (as well as Pemberley Ranch), but he pays close attention to his heroines as well. He addresses the changing roles of women and their dominance in the household, with Brandon’s steward refusing to take orders from Marianne and Anne’s insistence that she help Fitzwilliam compile financial figures for Rosings. I found so much to love in his treatment of Austen’s characters and enjoyed meeting Colonel Buford, who intrigued me because unlike Darcy, he is a hero with a blemished past.
I never would have thought to make Marianne and Elizabeth good friends in order to bring together the characters from both books, but Caldwell made it work. Austen fans also will be delighted with references to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion and will want to see how he connects them to Lady Catherine. The The Three Colonels is humorous and lighthearted, but also serious and touching. Once I got past the first couple of chapters, I couldn’t put it down, and I sure hope Caldwell is hard at work on another Austen-inspired novel.
Disclosure: I received The Three Colonels from Sourcebooks for review.
© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.