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love at first slight

Source: Review copy from Meryton Press
Rating: ★★★★☆

In no particular order of precedence, Flora’s main occupations were reading ribald romances, sampling grapes in all their myriad, fermented forms, and maintaining her husband’s frangible nerves.

Benjamin’s ruling ambition was securing five wealthy wives for his five healthy offspring.  A man’s world it might be, but women had the almighty power of refusal, and Benjamin was determined to further his sons’ chances against all odds and against all other suitors.

(from Love at First Slight, page 10)

In all my years of reading Austen-inspired novels, I never once thought about how Pride and Prejudice would have turned out had all the gender roles been reversed, but I’m so glad J. Marie Croft did.  Her newest novel, Love at First Slight, is clever and even downright hilarious at times.

In this rendition of Austen’s beloved novel, Benjamin Bennet is determined to make good matches for his five sons: Martin, the heir who would rather read scripture and moralize than run an estate; Charles, who is easy-going and would rather go into trade with his uncle than study law; William, who is flirtatious, outspoken, outdoorsy and would much rather manage an estate than be a deacon; and twins Christopher (Kit) and Laurence (Laurie), who are obsessed with joining the militia and spend much of their time raising hell and embarrassing the rest of the family.  It’s Flora Bennet who would rather stay at home reading horrid novels, drinking wine, and lamenting that she never had a daughter.

When the widow Mrs. Jane (Bingley) Devenport takes up residence at Netherfield with her dandified brothers, Leonard and Casper, and the haughty heiress Miss Elizabeth Darcy, Mr. Bennet is determined that at least one of his sons will soon be settled comfortably at the neighboring estate.  While Jane hits it off easily with Charles at the Meryton Assembly, William’s request for a dance with “Miss La-Di-Da-Darcy” is turned down, and he overhears her call him merely “tolerable” and make several jokes about his profession.  What follows is a humorous retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with Felicity Wickham catching William’s eye and having nothing nice to say about Miss Darcy, Olivia Collins setting her sights on the middle Bennet brother, and even the formidable Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne replaced by the equally domineering Sir Lewis and his son Andrew.

I don’t want to say more about the plot because even though Croft follows the original novel closely, the reversal in gender roles means there is a lot that is different.  Croft does a great job changing the circumstances to go along with the change in gender, and I loved watching the evolution of Elizabeth and William in these new roles.  I was curious how it was going to play out, especially as Elizabeth’s feelings toward him deepened in an era when “a lady’s feelings cannot be made known.”  And what scandal could befall the Bennet family this time, and how would Elizabeth smooth it all out?

Croft’s handling of the flipped characters was beautifully done, and she perfectly balanced the subtle humor with the ridiculous, mirroring Austen in that respect.  Love at First Slight‘s originality makes it a must-read for fans of Austen-inspired novels and especially for readers who have grown a bit tired of all the Pride and Prejudice-inspired novels being published (and it continues to surprise me that I have yet to tire of them myself).  I’ve long loved Austen for the timelessness of her stories and characters, and Croft’s novel is an example of the many different ways Austen’s novels can be explored.

Disclosure: I received Love at First Slight from Meryton Press for review.

© 2014 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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