Sunday, January 9, 2011

Book Review: Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley RanchIn Pemberley Ranch, Jack Caldwell successfully transforms the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from Regency England to post-Civil War Texas.  I must admit I was rooting for this one before I read a single word.  Pride and Prejudice meets Gone with the Wind?  And the gorgeous cover art!  Darcy as a cowboy!  Unlike other Austen reincarnations that involve vampires and zombies, I found this concept to be hard to resist.

On a normal day, I wouldn’t be drawn to a novel in the Western genre.  I don’t read Westerns and I don’t watch many Western movies. About as far as I’ll go is to the Love Comes Softly movies or the defunct Firefly series.  And even with those I think I’m stretching it a bit in calling them “Westerns”.

Nevertheless, this title was too enticing to pass up.  With Jack Caldwell being a newly published author, I hoped that this excellent concept wouldn’t fall flat or be completely ridiculous.  Fortunately, I wasn’t disappointed.  Pemberley Ranch was a delight from cover to cover.

Hugh Jackman as Will Darcy?
All the main characters of Pride and Prejudice are present, with many of their personality traits still intact.  Darcy is a wealthy leader who is used to getting what he wants.  Lizzy (or “Beth” in this version) is a strong woman who gets a poor first impression of Will Darcy.  Lydia (or “Lily” here) is still foolish and impulsive. George Wickham (“Whitehead”) is not just the villain that Austen envisioned; he’s simply a monster in this retelling.

Pemberley Ranch
did not have the feel of an Austen novel, but I don’t think it should have. The setting is entirely different, in western America as the country recovers from the devastation of the Civil War.  This conflict and the attitudes and experiences surrounding it color this story in a completely different fashion.  But I believe Caldwell has pulled this off nicely.  There’s adventure, mystery, a few footnoted history lessons, interesting characters and of course, romance.  I enjoyed Pemberley Ranch from start to finish, wished I didn’t have to put it down to attend to everyday life, and wanted the story to continue past the final pages. 

While the story is wrapped up and definitively ended with an exciting climatic scene, there are so many tales that could still emerge from this ranch in 19th Century Texas.  We saw virtually none of Jane and Bingley’s courtship—I’d love to see that explored.  Stories could easily be spun in the years following the Darcy’s marriage.  There’s a treasure trove of ideas here, and I hope Caldwell has the desire and opportunity to dig into them.

Content mention for parents/conservatives (spoiler alert for 2 paragraphs!):  While I’m very grateful that Caldwell chose to limit the amount of adult material in his text, there are just a few things to consider if you’re sensitive to mature situations.  While it was in a dream sequence (how convenient), there was a fairly steamy scene beside a river that I found to be completely unnecessary. I assume author Abigail Williams’ hand in assisting Caldwell with his work may have influenced this.  Her work can get racy at times, but I adored her novel Mr. Darcy’s Obsession, which wasn’t risqué at all.  Both Caldwell and Williams are excellent writers.  They are above this kind of thing, and I hope future books will avoid these cheap plot devices.  Follow Austen’s lead—less is more.

Also, there is a bit of language, including about four f-bombs, which felt very out of place given the low amount of cursing that was in the book overall.  But really there’s not a lot to complain about here.  The story is dealing with some rough-and-tumble outlaws, and I’m sure these types of characters were not ones to always say “darn” and “shoot” when exasperated. In truth, if Caldwell had painted a historically accurate picture of these hoodlums, things would have been much more colorful.  So I commend him for using other literary methods to express these characters’ consternation, at least for most of the time.

Those few reservations aside, I heartily recommend Pemberley Ranch.  Jack Caldwell has made an excellent debut.  And as a southerner and a Janeite, I enjoyed his perspective on these idioms.  His description of our use of the phrase “Bless her heart” was right on the money.  And the winks to Emma and Sense & Sensibility were charming. Caldwell’s Rosings is not Austen’s Rosings, and that’s just fine with me.  I love how the characters were tweaked, some more than others, but the general tone of their personalities was retained. The story was enjoyable, exciting and somewhat unpredictable, as we didn’t know exactly where Caldwell was going to take us.  In Pemberley Ranch Jack Caldwell has saddled his readers up for an Austenesque ride that they may not have expected, but they certainly will enjoy.

This title was provided by Sourcebooks Landmark. 
Only an honest review was required.



  1. This sounds like a great book! I love austen spin-offs. I've been curious out it since I'm definitely not a western person.

  2. Melanie:

    I'm the same way-- not a western fan, but love Austen. This one's worth a try!


  3. I loved your review! (: I can guiltily (due to the amount of fun I have poked at other Austen-remakes) say that I would almost certainly adore this book!

    Oh! And I also love the Love Comes Softly movies. If you read the books you can really tell that they do definitely belong in the Western genre. Though that's fine with me since I love Westerns, I know alot of people who don't and still enjoyed them. ;)


  4. Arya:

    I think I read the first Love Comes Softly book, but it was at least 20 years ago and I remember little. I did enjoy the movies and gobbled them up when I discovered them.

    Thanks for your comment-- I'm going to go check out your blog as well.


  5. Beautiful blog...I am stopping by from Cym Lowell's Book Party Reveiw.

    Hope you can stop by mine as well.

    There is also a book blog giveaway ending tonight, February 23, on my blog if you want to stop by.



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