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JABC #5: "Return to Longbourn" by Shannon Winslow

I am late (yet again) by two months for this review. I promise I completed the reading waaaaay back in April, so this should technically be my May entry to the Jane Austen Bicentenary Challenge. Such is my "fashionably late" reviewing style!



I was looking very forward to entry in the JABC for a number of reasons. One: that I won the book in one of the AustenProse contests, and two: that I was supremely interested in reading a novel based around Mary Bennett, the oft-forgotten sister and assumed drudge of the quintet. I am pleased to say that I was happy with this novel, though at times I had my doubts. Allow me to explain.

The novel opens, as the first in the series (The Darcys of Pemberley) did, with a death, this time of Mr. Bennett. The family's patriarch dies of old age as may be expected, but as the last novel assured us, drama must follow because the heir to Longbourn is dead himself! What a to-do! In the absence of Mr. Collins, we find that that odious fellow, in fact, has a brother: a Mr. Tristan Collins, and that the remaining single Bennett ladies are expected by their doting mama to marry him. Of course, we have yet to meet him as he has been living in America - but no matter!

Kitty is living at Longbourn still and is the darling of her mama and the expected, future Mrs. Collins. However, Kitty does not relish marrying some unknown, possibly disgusting Collins, so she aways to visit her elder sisters and leaves Mary, now serving as a governess to the family currently inhabiting Netherfield, to take the brunt of Mr. Collins' attentions.

Enter Mr. Tristan Collins... and dude, he's actually hot! And kind! And smart! Well, who'd've thought??

There are other claims on Mary's affections, however: the two children she nannies dote on her as does (maybe???) the master of the house, a formidable man whose wife died a few years previous. He rules his roost with a near-iron fist and brooks no opposition from anyone except, at times, from Mary who is, for all her reserve and logical coolness, a formidable opponent in her own right and not afraid to speak her mind to her employer when she knows herself to be in the right. There is clearly a strange, waffling friendship between them, but is it appropriate? And is it more than friendship??

This is, of course, Mary's story, and the drama and uncertainty of late-blooming romance crests and crashes upon her lone frame. I enjoyed watching her progression, and while I was worried for a while that we readers would be forced into seeing the reenactment of a Jane/Rochester romance with Mary and her employer (whose name escapes me now), I was... well, I'll let you find our for yourself how that fadges!

4.5 out of 5 opossums. Hear, hear!

Tags: jane austen bicentenary challenge 2013
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