Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Review Copy from Author
Instead of retelling Pride and Prejudice from the hero’s point-of-view as many authors have done before, Mark Brownlow opts to share another character’s unique perspective. While not present for much of the action in Jane Austen’s tale and often described as indolent and apathetic, Mr. Brownlow shows us there is much more to Jane Austen’s sardonic and bookish gentleman farmer and father of five In the first book of this series (not sure how many books are planned at the moment), readers will see Mr. Bennet’s thoughts as Mr. Bingley, Mr. Collins, and the militia come into town, learn more about his past and early adulthood, and encounter several new characters, including the young John Barton who seeks Mr. Bennet’s help. In order to help his friend’s son, Mr. Bennet becomes embroiled in speculation, schemes, strategies, and thankfully copious amounts of sponge cake!
I love alternative point-of-view stories, especially when the author thoughtfully develops the character and shows some previously unknown facets of their life. In Cake and Courtship readers learn all about Mr. Bennet’s habits – his trips to bookstores, his reading preferences, his interests in insects and the natural world, and his Meryton Natural History Society meetings (which I loved!). Not only do I appreciate that Mr. Brownlow fleshed-out Mr. Bennet’s character, I admire how he did it. Mr. Bennet’s friends were a delight to encounter and I enjoyed seeing Mr. Bennet’s interactions with them.
Even with the arrivals of Mr. Bingley and the militia causing its usual stir, Mr. Brownlow introduces one more significant bachelor to the mix, the son of his comrade in arms – John Barton. John Barton is a most intriguing new addition as he grew up as a playmate of Jane and Elizabeth but for the last decade or more has been traveling the world. Now John has returned and is seeking Mr. Bennet’s advice in an area that Mr. Bennet feels very ill-qualified to provide counsel in – how to successfully court a lady.
It seems John has fallen for a lady at first sight, without being introduced to her! I loved seeing Mr. Bennet commiserate with John’s plight and contemplate ways to help him out. While he is a realist and will tell John exactly how bleak the situation is, he is also somewhat of a romantic and never allows John to abandon hope. I loved following along on this shared romantic adventure and witnessing all the schemes and surprises in store for both Mr. Bennet and John. Especially Mr. Barton tongue-tied attempts at conversation with his fair lady love that turn into unexpected verbal sparring matches. My only quibble is that the romance felt like it changed pace a little too swiftly towards the end.
I enjoyed how this retelling shed some light on Mr. Bennet’s past and his own romantic history. So many readers wonder why and how he came to be married to Mrs. Bennet, and it looks like Mr. Brownlow has laid the foundation to shed some light on that time in Mr. Bennet’s life. To learn that he has been in love and lives with disappointment paints him as quite the tragic hero, and I personally cannot wait to see what else we learn about his romantic past. (It might terrible of me to say it, but part of me hopes he somehow finds his own happiness in love!)
What a splendid debut to this series! With subtle wit, charm, and cleverness Mark Brownlow proves he can capture the essence and spirit of Jane Austen’s sardonic Mr. Bennet. This is the spotlight on Mr. Bennet for which I have been waiting and I am excessively eager to see this series continue!