Saturday, December 31, 2022

Book Review: Rosings Park by Jack Caldwell

A decade ago, groundbreaking novel The Three Colonels began the epic Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series and transformed Austenesque literature with its blend of Regency romance and historical fiction. Rosings Park is its long-awaited conclusion!

The Napoleonic Wars are finally over, and Britain seeks to rebuild after a generation of war. Gone is the “green and pleasant land” of the early Regency. In its place, a natural disaster on the other side of the world exacerbates the country’s woes: economic depression, widespread hunger, industrialization, and civil unrest. Great Britain faces ruin and revolution.

Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy agree to take in the young and spirited daughter of Lydia Wickham, and all the while, their beloved Pemberley is being endangered by riotous Luddites. Colonel Sir Richard Fitzwilliam marries Anne de Bourgh but finds the management of Rosings Park no easy matter, especially with Lady Catherine de Bourgh ready and eager to offer advice. Haunted by despair and gravely wounded in body and spirit, a bitter Colonel Sir John Buford returns to England to be nursed by his wife, the former Caroline Bingley.

Then, an evil out of the past returns to wreak vengeance on Rosings Park, and the Darcys, Fitzwilliams, Bufords, and their friends face a devastating truth: HAPPILY EVER AFTER MUST BE EARNED. 

As mentioned in the description above, Jack Caldwell’s “Fighting Men” series began in 2012 with The Three Colonels, which I had the pleasure of reading. I also read and reviewed the subsequent volumes The Last Adventure of the Scarlet Pimpernel (2016) and Persuaded to Sail (2020). The next title released was Rosings Park. Once again Caldwell has brought together several beloved characters from the world of Jane Austen, plus a few of his own creation. Although I found Persuaded to Sail to be a bit of a misstep for this talented author, he has produced a fine work in Rosings Park. As a Janeite I thoroughly enjoyed inhabiting the world of the likes of the Darcys, the Fitzwilliams and others. Readers are given a thorough glimpse inside the inner workings of the Rosings estate, as well as inside the lives of those who are within and affected by this grand residence. 

A large portion of the novel focuses on the relationships of the characters, developing friendships and loves that Austen either set in motion in her original works, or certainly would have approved of in Caldwell’s vision for their narratives. The fate of the daughter of Lydia Bennet Wickham was particularly compelling. A spunky, sweet young lady who deserved much better parents, Chloe Wickham is sometimes shunned for her heritage. Light in spirit, she manages to win over several surly adults who initially discount her as merely the spawn of less-than-desirable folk. 

The development of other Austenesque characters was also interesting, as readers find the former Caroline Bingley growing into a woman of compassion and esteem. Anne de Bourgh Fitzwilliam matures as a woman, gaining greater health physically, but also learning how to be the lady of a grand estate (which includes managing her mother as well). Her husband, Colonel Fitzwilliam has struggles of his own too, as he must be the master of Rosings with a formidable mother-in-law.

Calwell also introduces into the lives of these characters some elements that bring about no small amount of drama, particularly near the close of the novel. I found the final chapters to be especially riveting, with dastardly deeds faced on multiple fronts by the men and women of Rosings. It was also refreshing to have high drama without copious amounts of graphic material. On occasion the men would spout off colorful language, but it was reasonable (if not lighter) than one would expect from military men in that era, facing matters of life and death. 

Jack Caldwell’s “Fighting Men” series has continued with a fine fourth volume in the collection. Rosings Park is a delicious return to the world of Jane Austen’s characters. The development of relationships was compelling and realistic, and the drama was page-turning. Within the end pages of the book readers are given the tease that a fifth book will one day arrive, entitled Brother of the Bride. I had previously assumed that Rosings Park was the concluding title, but it seems this is not the case. I’m glad that the saga has not completely retired. Jack Caldwell’s portrayal of his and Austen’s characters was worth another visit in Rosings Park, and will most certainly be once again in Brother of the Bride.

About the Author

Jack Caldwell, born and raised in the Bayou County of Louisiana, is an author, amateur historian, professional economic development consultant, playwright, and like many Cajuns, a darn good cook. His nickname – The Cajun Cheesehead – came from his devotion to his two favorite NFL teams: the New Orleans Saints and the Green Bay Packers. When not writing or traveling with his wife, Barbara, Jack attempts to play golf. A devout convert to Roman Catholicism, Jack is married with three grown sons. 

Always a history buff, Jack found and fell in love with Jane Austen in his twenties, struck by her innate understanding of the human condition. Jack uses his work to share his knowledge of history. Through his characters, he hopes the reader gains a better understanding of what went on before, developing an appreciation for our ancestors' trials and tribulations.

Jack’s novels include Pemberley Ranch, Mr. Darcy Came to Dinner, The Companion of his Future Life, the Jane Austen’s Fighting Men series and the Crescent City series.

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