I have mixed feelings about Colleen McCullough. On one hand, she wrote the well-researched and racy Caesar’s Women and other novels set in ancient Rome. On the other hand, I haven’t quite forgiven her for Thorn Birds.
Now, I love Pride and Prejudice.The story is an understated comedy of formal manners and romantic expectations, plus nerdy girls everywhere agree that Mr Darcy is a catch. I love it because it also shows that the clever use of sarcasm can make any difficult situation better.
I was excited for some more brilliant Elizabeth / Darcy banter, and I was interested in seeing how the relationship matured. Would seventeen years of marriage to Elizabeth get Darcy laughing and lighthearted, or would she find that the dark, sarcastic, brooding type can be hard to live with? Are Jane and Bingley cheated by every servant, as Mr. Bennett predicted at the end of Pride and Prejudice?
I was hoping that bookish Mary would have some bluestocking friends and perhaps meet a nice professor or author for her love interest. Instead, she is kidnapped first by highwaymen, then by Darcy’s brutish secret half-brother, and finally spends most of the book held hostage by, um, a human-sacrifice cult living in the huge underground caves near Pemberley! (The Darcys just have endless skeletons in their closets, don’t they?). I had to check a couple times to make sure I was reading an actual novel and not internet fanfic.
The understated comedy was gone. Instead, characters with the same names as my beloved Bennett sisters had emotional blowup after emotional blowup. A blunt and uncontrolled Elizabeth Bennett Darcy shouting mediocre insults? Huh? Antisocial Darcy — who goes by the cutesy nickname Fitz — is networking with the house of lords as part of his campaign for prime minister, and trying to keep both his thuggish half-brother and mad, alcoholic Lydia Bennett Wickham a secret. One clever moment, when Caroline Bingley is dispatched to deal with pushover Jane and Bigley’s unruly children, is canceled out by bizarre actions by characters we know and love.
Writing a sequel to such a well-loved story would be difficult no matter what, and subject to readers insisting that that’s not what Jane / Elizabeth / Darcy / Mary would really have done. But, come on, a human sacrifice cult? In Derbyshire?