Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
TYPE OF AUSTENESQUE NOVEL: Pride and Prejudice Variation
TIME FRAME: Begins with Jane falling ill at Netherfield
MAIN CHARACTERS: Elizabeth and Jane Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bennet, Charles Bingely, Watkins, and Molly
SYNOPSIS: When it looks like Jane’s “trifling cold” isn’t getting any better, there is much cause for concern. The Bingley sisters depart to protect their own health, and Mr. Bennet arrives to maintain propriety for both his daughters as they all wait to see if Jane’s health will finally improve. The extended stay in Netherfield may help to bring some of our couples closer together…But what happens when Darcy by chance reads some of Elizabeth’s private journal entries and is caught? Are his actions too unthinkable to forgive?
WHAT I LOVED:
- Darcy’s Thoughts: In this variation, we only see things from Mr. Darcy’s point-of-view. I loved being privy to Darcy’s inner thoughts and his internal monologue is quiet humorous at times! As with Ms. Helm’s other works, there is a bit of an inspirational message woven into the story, and that comes about through Darcy’s dreams at night. In several of his dreams, two powerful beings pay Darcy a visit – one to tempt him to change the past and one to caution him about the consequences of doing such an act. It was interesting to see the progression of Darcy’s thoughts and feelings about such an opportunity.
- Chess Theme: I loved how both Darcy and Elizabeth (and their fathers) had a strong fondness for a game of chess. It was so refreshing and interesting to see these characters bond over playing chess, and I loved witnessing the games they played with each other! It was great to see Darcy vs. Mr. Bennet and Darcy vs. Elizabeth (especially when Elizabeth gets a little discomposed!) The chess games and the secret chess club were delightful additions to this story!
- Mr. Bennet, Mr. Bingley, Watkins: While this story centers mostly upon Darcy and Elizabeth, there are a few secondary characters I really enjoyed seeing receive some page time. In this story Mr. Bennet comes to know both Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley quite well and I loved the relationship that started to develop between these men. I also enjoyed seeing how Mr. Bingley came into his own in this variation. With Caroline gone and his beloved Jane unwell, it was great to see Mr. Bingley become more assertive and confident with his decisions. And lastly, I really enjoyed Robin Helm’s original character, Watkins, Mr. Darcy’s valet! I love when authors give servants a bit of personality! Especially when these characters are sometimes a little bit impertinent, opinionated, and like to do a little matchmaking!
WHAT I WASN’T TOO FOND OF:
- Sometimes Disjointed: While I loved the premise and little details of this story, there were some arcs of the story that at times felt a little disjointed to me, like Darcy’s abrupt departure from Netherfield, Georgiana’s quick decision to go to Rosings, and Molly initially being a Netherfield servant but later a Longbourn servant. In addition after he leaves Netherfield, Darcy is contemplating his strong feelings for Elizabeth and thinks to himself “How shall I forget her? She assaults every sense. Reminders of her will be everywhere.” (page 153) But on the very next page it feels as if he flips the switch just a little too quickly as he starts thinking “I have avoided London for far too long. There are an abundance of eligible ladies there. Perhaps another shall capture my interest… Surely there is another lady with Elizabeth’s wit and intelligence – though I have yet to meet her.” (page 154). Granted Mr. Darcy is only thinking of a marriage of convenience at this point, but again I feel it is too soon.
- Elizabeth’s POV: I enjoy when a story gives us a lot of Darcy-time but I did sort of feel that I wanted to see more from Elizabeth’s POV in this story. Especially as she had several suitors crop up into the scene (not just Mr. Collins!). I know this might not have been possible though, since it was an all Darcy POV story.
Even though I am more partial to the first half of the story, overall, I found Understanding Elizabeth to be an inventive, enjoyable, and entertaining Pride and Prejudice variation. Robin Helm has a talent for crafting creative and original premises, and I love her sense of humor and clever twists!