Saturday, October 11, 2014

Book Review: Remember the Past by Maria Grace

Elizabeth Bennet’s father, Admiral Thomas Bennet, assures his daughters that his retirement from His Majesty’s Navy will be the start of a new life for them all. Little does he know his family's battles have only just begun.

Well-connected and in possession of a good fortune, their entry into society should have been a triumph. However, their long-awaited first season in London proves a disaster, and the resulting scandal sends the Bennets fleeing to the wilds of Derbyshire.

Widower Fitzwilliam Darcy, the master of Pemberley, wants for nothing, most especially not a wife. From the moment the Bennets arrive in Derbyshire, Darcy’s neatly ordered life turns upside down. His sons beg to keep company with their new playmates, the young Bennet twins. His mother-in-law sets her cap for Admiral Bennet. Worst of all, Darcy cannot get his mind off a certain bewitching Miss Elizabeth Bennet, but she has sworn never to let another gentleman near her heart.

Darcy’s best efforts to befriend and assist the Bennet family go horribly awry, alienating first Miss Elizabeth, then her father, and finally endangering what both men hold most dear. Can the two men Elizabeth loves most set aside their pride to prevent catastrophe for their families and win the love they seek?

In Jane Austen’s original classic, Pride and Prejudice, we are introduced to the Bennet family with Mr. Bennet, his wife and their five daughters. Austen also presents us with the formidable, wealthy, prideful yet dashing Mr. Darcy, his sister and their relations, both familiar and social. When Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet meet for the first time, it certainly isn’t love at first sight, and they go endure many challenges to ultimately become one of the most beloved couples in all of literature.

In Remember the Past, author Maria Grace takes the basic premises found in Pride and Prejudice and tweaks them just a bit, leading to very different storylines for her characters. This is often referred to as a Pride and Prejudice “diversion”, some of which have been written in a most interesting fashion by various authors, with entertaining results. Others have not always impressed me, so the mere inclusion of Austen’s characters is not a guarantee of a pleasing tale to recommend to my friends and readers. As I’ve read and enjoyed Maria Grace’s work before in Darcy’s Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy, I had high hopes for her latest work in Remember the Past.

In Maria’s vision of Austen’s world, Darcy is now a widower with two young boys. Mr. Bennet is also a widower twice over, and both men (whether they initially admit it or not) nurse some measure of loneliness, revealing that they are in want of a wife. The Bennet family is no longer solely made up of women; Elizabeth now has two younger brothers with whom to contend as she also keeps an eye on her adoring father, a former admiral. Darcy’s aunt Catherine de Bourgh is still very much a part of the story, but her demeanor is distinctly softer and more sympathetic than Austen’s Lady. I found this Catherine to be a pleasant soul, however she wasn’t as interesting as the haughty original. Lady de Bourgh struggles with issues from her past, causing her memory of them to be quite painful. This informs the title of the novel and is one of the main themes overall.

But as in Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth hold the most attention. Fitzwilliam seems to be smitten with Elizabeth from the outset; there is no mention of her being “not handsome enough” for him. She is even spunkier than Austen’s original, having grown up under the care of her admiral father, learning sword play as well as riding horses astride (as opposed to side saddle). At the same time, Elizabeth is a bit insecure, after a painful social rejection from the ton in London, not long ago. Although the attraction to Darcy is there, she resists it at first and must overcome her insecurities as an eligible maiden.

The dastardly character of George Wickham also takes a major role in the novel, much like in the original text. His behaviors are not precisely the same, but his personal integrity (or lack thereof) and devious nature are still very much intact. He provides quite the foil to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Mr. Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam. Wickham’s presence in their lives brings about much intrigue and excitement to say the least.

I enjoyed Maria Grace’s latest vision of this Austenesque world. The cast of characters remains mostly intact, but their journeys take decidedly different routes. I enjoyed the chemistry that remains between Darcy and Elizabeth, and Admiral Bennet’s relationships were touching and sweet. The journey he takes as a father and a husband were quite interesting, and I enjoyed spending more time with this character, who usually tends to take on a more minor role in this genre. Wickham is deliciously troublemaking, and I liked how Maria developed him as a character. It may be sacrilegious to say, but I felt that his ultimate fate was much more satisfying than the one Austen wrote for him.

Near the conclusion of the novel, dramatic events unfold that positively captured my interest and brought cinematic energy to the story. Due to the fact that this is a “diversion”, I had no idea what kind of fate was in store for the characters. I was on the edge of my seat at one point, taking in quite a perilous scene that could have ended in many different ways. Grace’s choices were realistic and very entertaining.

Side thought: As a mother of two boys, I loved the inclusion of so many little tykes into the story. The Darcy and Bennet boys truly brought a new and welcome flavor to the storyline. It made Darcy not only a dashing gentleman, but an admirable father figure as well. Many women would agree, those traits make men even more attractive as individuals.

A note to my conservative readers: As an Austenesque diversion, the romantic content of Remember the Past is not exactly as implied as it was in Pride and Prejudice. More than one couple’s passions for one another are made perfectly clear. However, Maria Grace’s efforts to keep things tantalizing without becoming overly salacious were well done. I would rate the content as a light PG-13. Everyone remains clothed, and the sanctity of the marriage bed is respected. Salty language is also kept to a minimum. I applaud Maria for her choices in these areas, as her writing is more than strong enough to hold up without overly steamy content.

Just as she did in Darcy’s Decision and The Future Mrs. Darcy, Maria Grace has once again brought to her readers a delightful, entertaining and sweetly romantic story while using Austen’s characters as a launching point for the tale.  I give it a hearty recommendation, and look forward to returning to her work in the Given Good Principles series, with All the Appearance of Goodness and Twelfth Night at Longbourn.

About the Author

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, sown six Regency era costumes, written seven Regency-era fiction projects, and designed eight websites. To round out the list, she cooks for nine in order to accommodate the growing boys and usually makes ten meals at a time so she only cooks twice a month.

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  1. I have this one and I read it when she put it up on her blog as a serial. I need to get on the stick and read it all polished up and in one story. Well thought review, Laura!



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