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the secret betrothal

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

He does not dare to kiss me, her mind screamed silently, but why am I trembling?  She felt a flutter in the pit of her stomach and could not keep her eyelids from blinking over and over.  He is actually going to kiss me!

Very close to her face and audible only to her ear, Mr. Darcy said, “When I kiss you, Miss Bennet, I will not need the inducement of mistletoe.”  He then touched his lips to her hand, released it, and walked out the door.

The colour drained from Elizabeth’s face as she made her way across the room to the perimeter of the hall.  Her knees suddenly felt quite weak, and she sank down upon a chair, aware that her breathing had grown shallow and ragged.  When he kisses me?  The gall of that man!  That is one thing that will never happen!

(from The Secret Betrothal, page 48)

Jan Hahn’s latest take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice puts an even bigger obstacle than usual in the path to Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy’s happily ever after.  The last time I read Pride and Prejudice a couple of years ago, I remember being really surprised by how much Elizabeth likes Mr. Wickham and falls for his charms.  I think I like to put that out of my mind, but in The Secret Betrothal, Hahn expands on that attraction and kept me cringing and wanting to not believe what I was reading even while making it hard for me to put the book down.

The Secret Betrothal shows what might have happened had Mr. Wickham really, really wanted to punish Mr. Darcy and persuaded Elizabeth to become engaged to him, then keep that engagement a secret, even from her dear sister Jane.  Hahn surprisingly makes this scenario believable, however repulsive it is to imagine Elizabeth linked to that horrid scoundrel.  In fact, the only thing I didn’t like about this book was that I was able to believe it, so kudos to Hahn for that!

There were so many things I liked about this novel, from Hahn’s courage in embroiling the heroine in a secret engagement to the evolution of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy’s relationship, with confusion, tenderness, passion, and the realization that nothing can keep these characters apart for long.  Hahn lets readers spend more time with Charlotte in this rendition and even inserts some humor in the form of Lady Catherine’s spring tonic.  (Seriously, it’s hilarious!)  But the freshness of the story is really where this novel shines.  I loved that Hahn took the main characters to Brighton and let the story unfold by the sea.

Hahn dedicates the novel to “anyone who has chosen unwisely the first time,” and The Secret Betrothal certainly is a story where that is the case.  Elizabeth has even more to chastise herself about in this retelling, not only for falling prey to a scoundrel but also for risking her reputation.  It’s a novel that highlights the flaws that make Austen’s heroes and heroines so endearing, so life-like, and it also shows that there is no end to the possibilities for these characters.

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Disclosure: I received The Secret Betrothal 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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