Monday, March 21, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Only Mr. Darcy Will Do'

The Book: Only Mr. Darcy Will Do (previously self-published as Something Like Regret in 2008)

The Author: Kara Louise

How I Found It: It was very highly regarded while it was out initially, and I decided to take the leap and read it once Sourcebooks reissued it earlier this month.

The Review: For the sake of being comprehensive, and because there will be a comparison or two later on, I'm going to link to my review of another P&P variation, Abigail Reynold's Mr. Darcy's Obsession, that had similar themes to this one.

Both Obsession and this book picked the same variable: what if Mr. Bennet had died, forcing Elizabeth and her family out of Longbourn, and Elizabeth into employment as a governess? While Obsession had a really strong take on the seamy underside of society at the time in addition to its romance, Only Mr. Darcy Will Do is more of a straight romance, and a very, very good one.

Shortly after she rejects Mr. Darcy's proposal and is given his letter of apology and explanations, Elizabeth receives word of her father's death and has to quit Rosings immediately. When we open, it is not yet a year since Mr. Bennet's passing, and Elizabeth is still in mourning as she works as governess for little Emily Willstone. Elizabeth is tormented by regret, wondering what her life could have been like if she had only said yes to Mr. Darcy and become mistress of Pemberley. With her social status even lower than it was before, she now has no hope of catching his eye again, even if their paths were to cross...

... and as it turns out, they do cross, because Mr. Bingley and Miss Georgiana Darcy move in the same circles as the Willstones. Elizabeth has not yet seen Mr. Darcy, but it is only a matter of time. Things are made even worse by the arrival of Mrs. Willstone's younger sister, Rosalyn Matthews, who has been carrying a torch for Mr. Darcy for some time. Once Rosalyn hears that Elizabeth has a previous acquaintance with Darcy, she begs Elizabeth for her help in figuring out how to capture his interest.

When the Willstones are invited to spend two weeks at Pemberley, Elizabeth has no choice but to go. She will have to stay at Pemberley, constantly running into the man who once admitted to loving her, walking the halls of the home that could have been hers. The two weeks will give her plenty of opportunities to see Darcy at his best, but there's no hope of a romance between them when class stands in their way...

First off, can I just say that I really, really wish Sourcebooks had kept the original title? Many Sourcebooks authors have expressed mild displeasure over the title changes (Sourcebooks has numbers that indicate that books with the word "Darcy" in the title sell more, hence the changes to many self-published titles that have been picked up). Not only is the phrase "something like regret" repeated at least a few times in the novel, regret itself is such an overwhelming theme that it just really would have been a better choice.

I had a bit of a bumpy start with this one. I just wasn't drawn into it right away--it wasn't until the gang arrived at Pemberley that I started turning the pages faster and faster. So for me, it had a slow start, but I can honestly say that this book had some of the best characterizations I've yet seen in P&P paraliterature.

It is the characterizations, particularly of Lizzy and Darcy, that were the real highlight of this novel. Louise didn't take the easy way out, either--the book is almost entirely third person limited to Lizzy, so we don't get Darcy's point of view almost the entire time (excepting the prologue, and a few brief paragraphs where other character's inner thoughts are gone into). We get to see Darcy grow in Lizzy's estimation right alongside her, instead of seeing things from Darcy's perspective and getting that view right off.

The interactions between Lizzy and Darcy were incredibly well done, especially a scene where the two duel at chess. Sure, it was laying it on a bit too thick at points that Darcy was awesome (saving a cat from a storm? It was sweet, yes, but a little trite). But darned if it wasn't incredibly romantic. This book actually reminded me why I loved Darcy four years ago when I first read P&P. I swear my allegiance primarily to Colonel Brandon and Edmund Bertram (though I'm not going to deny having an "I Love Mr. Darcy" t-shirt), and sometimes I can forget what makes Darcy awesome. This book served as a good reminder: he's a good big brother, a great landlord, and is willing to take another look at himself and change for the girl he loves. Ultimate romantic hero? I think so.

The plot could have been a bit more original--the portrait of Elizabeth's regret over turning down Darcy's proposal and the potentiality of his being in love with Rosalyn struck me as a little too Anne/Wentworth/Louisa, and Rosalyn and Elizabeth's interactions resembled those of Lucy Steele and Elinor Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. A reader who is just familiar with P&P, however, won't notice these things. I will say that it is probably necessary to read P&P or at least have seen a movie version before picking this one up, because certain crucial events from that are referenced assuming that the reader has familiarity enough to get it.

For readers who really want more time with P&P, or to those who just want a look at what sequels and variations are like, this one is perfect. We get Lizzy/Darcy and a really good look at Lizzy as a character (her relationship to her father, her sisters, etc.). We get Jane/Bingley and a few glimpses of the rest of the Bennet family. We get a pretty good subplot about being a governess, and what that might mean to social standing. The romance, especially towards the end, gets a little too saccharine, but other than that, this is an expertly done, wonderfully romantic variation that earns my highest recommendations.

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