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Monday, 5 January 2015

To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth

Book Cover - To Refine Like Silver by Jeanna Ellsworth
When I saw there was a blog tour for this book I was quick to sign up for it, having read and enjoyed this author’s book Mr Darcy’s Promise and the story of Pride & Persistence when it was being posted online. However, I didn’t realise at that time that this book touches on some really dark issues, depression and sexual violence. Usually I would avoid at all costs reading a book that relates to sexual violence.  I know it happens, the world can be a sad and dark place but I don’t look for a realistic level of sadness in my reading, I read to escape that. Oscar Wilde once wrote: ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.’ I think that's pretty true, and it’s one reason that I read fiction!  The last time I read any JAFF with sexual violence I only read the sample and I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it gave me nightmares. Roughly knowing subject matter I put off starting it, because I was worried I’d find it a heavy read. However, once I started reading this book and got into it I was glad that I’d signed up to review it, as I unexpectedly found it very uplifting to read and not a sad book, although sad things have happened.

The story begins in Derbyshire. It’s the summer of 1811 and Darcy hasn’t yet gone to Meryton. He is still at home, and incredibly worried about Georgiana who appears to have fallen into a deep melancholy, following the events of Ramsgate. Darcy goes to visit a new neighbour, a Mr Gardiner, whose wife has inherited an estate close to Pemberley. One of Mr Gardiner’s nieces, a Miss Elizabeth Bennet, is staying with the Gardiners while they adjust to estate ownership. Meeting Elizabeth under more favourable circumstances – in his own environment rather than in society he’s looking down on, and her family not around to cause any embarrassment, Darcy feels immediately attracted to her. Not so much her looks, but an unusual quality she has, almost like an inner brightness. Mr Gardiner invites Mr Darcy and his sister to dine with them that evening and Darcy accepts, hoping that Georgiana will feel able to attend. Meeting in this way starts off Darcy & Elizabeth’s relationship on a much better footing.
‘She found Mr. Darcy quite interesting. She was curious why he didn’t have a wife. He seemed kind and was fairly amiable. She did sense a certain amount of pride, but only because he was so focused on presenting himself well.’
What Darcy doesn’t realise is that Georgiana is in a much worse mental state than he knows. She is depressed and doesn’t care whether she lives or dies. In fact, her only outlet is horse riding, which she does recklessly, semi-hoping that she will have an accident that ends her unhappiness for good. However, Georgiana isn’t entirely unable to focus on anything other than the feelings that are crushing her and she recognises that Darcy has met somebody who could potentially be important to him. Making a huge effort, she goes to the Gardiners and Elizabeth immediately recognises the sad, lost look in Georgiana’s eyes. The reason that she recognises it is that Elizabeth was suffering a similar sadness, but she finally managed to come through it with the love of her father and Jane, and now she is desperate to help Georgiana do the same. She offers Georgiana friendship, and Darcy is only too happy to further the friendship as he is keen to do anything that will aid Georgiana’s recovery, particularly once he realises the depth of Georgiana’s despair.

In this variation, one of the changes is Mr Bennet’s background. He only inherited Longbourn about a decade before the events unfolding, having previously been a clergyman. Partly as a result of this, but mostly because of the trials Elizabeth has faced, Elizabeth’s faith is a big part of her life and there is a strong reliance on believing in God and relying on him, thanking him and following his lessons of forgiveness. This spiritual aspect is something I hadn’t seen in Austenesque stories before. I should imagine that some people would love it and others would be turned right off by it. I was on the fence, although I read Christian fiction (sometimes referred to as inspirational fiction) and I enjoy the positive messages of many of the books I’ve read in the genre, as indeed I enjoyed the positive messages found in this book. The spiritual aspect is very strong, and comes through in nearly all Elizabeth’s thoughts and conversations. In canon there is not much that Elizabeth said or did that was overtly religious so for me it led to a significant change in her character and it took me a while to get to know her.

One of the passages of the Bible that Elizabeth refers to when talking to Darcy talks about refining people as silver is refined, and she challenges him to find out what is special about the refining of silver. The refining of silver is a metaphor here. Usually, being a plain-spoken person who says what they mean, I am not a fan of metaphors, but when the process was described I found this metaphor quite profound and I thought it really underlined the themes of forgiveness and the reasons that we have trials to bear which are explored throughout the book.

I have a tendency to be distracted by stray details in a story and there were a few here, such as some words and turns of phrase which were too modern or American, a blacksmith who seemed too well-educated and some period details that didn’t seem quite right to me. I was also a little surprised by some of the behaviour exhibited by the Bennets. Elizabeth is quite over-familiar with the Darcys when they first meet, particularly with Georgiana, and it seemed unlikely behaviour to me, because she had been determined to make a good impression for her uncle’s sake. Also, since Mr Bennet is a former clergyman, and clearly a much more active father than in canon I would have expected Elizabeth’s younger siblings to be altered from the characters we know, since their upbringing would have been very different.

One thing that made this book really stand out for me is the way that Elizabeth helps Georgiana work through her depression. How your trials in life shape you and make you stronger, and that you need to make positive steps towards healing. Elizabeth keeps a notebook of inspirational quotes, (many of which are summarised in the back of the book). The thought that this book might be useful for people who have been touched by situational depression either by experiencing it themselves or trying to support a loved one, struck me many times.

I’ve had real difficulty trying to pin down in words my feelings towards this book but it’s one I’m glad I read, despite the difficult subject matter. I found it both uplifting and inspiring. I almost felt like a better person for having read it, even though I’m doubtful that I would be capable of the forgiveness the characters in this book bestow. Over time, some books merge into others in your mind, but this was so unlike other variations, that I’ve read that I’m sure I’ll remember it. I would recommend reading this book, as long as you do not object to a strong Christian message and I would rate it as 4½ stars.

4.5 star read

Giveaway: Since I was later than planned posting this review, I've decided to extend the closing date of the giveaway from the author of To Refine Like Silver, of a paperback copy of the book to one winner, and some Fitzwilliam Darcy soap to another winner. Both are open to international entrants, and the giveaway will be closed for entries at the end of Wednesday 7 January. To enter, just leave a comment. If you comment on both this review, and on the original giveaway post then you will get an extra chance to win. If you have a preference for the soap or the book, please state it in your comment, or I'll assume you'd like either just as much, and please leave a way for me to contact you, such as email address, twitter handle etc. Again, many thanks to Jeanna Ellsworth for putting such lovely stuff up for grabs!

15 comments:

  1. Most Austen authors neglect to embrace the fact that Jane Austen's father was a minister. It is refreshing to read an Austen fiction tale which includes this truth. I entered an essay on the Pemberly site which did not win, however, it too accentuated historical places with conversations that were littered with spiritual inspirations, that most certainly, must have been part of Jane's life and times.

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    1. Hi Barbara, It's very true that a religious element in an Austen-inspired tale is rare, and as you say, Austen's father and later her brother were clergymen, so you'd think it must've been a significant part of her life.

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  2. Wow, that's an amazing review, Ceri. Makes me want to read it even more than I do already. I wonder if Jane Austen made a conscious effort to leave out references to Christianity in her books, or was it just such an accepted part of everyday life that it wasn't something she would particularly remark on.

    I'd love to win either prize, Ceri, but would prefer the book, just!

    angmardee (at)hotmail(dot)com

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    1. I was mulling over Barbara's comment and I wondered that too Anji. The Bronte sisters were also daughters of a clergyman, and to me, religion plays a much bigger role in their works than in Austen's. I wonder if that was just that times had changed, as from my understanding the Victorian era was stricter and more pious than the Georgian era that Austen grew up in, or whether it was just something she didn't want to explore in her works.

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  3. Thank you for your honest review. I am even more interested in reading this one. Love the soap too.

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    1. Thank you schilds. I struggled to find the words for this review, I had trouble pinning down the wording to express my thoughts. Good luck in the giveaway :)

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  4. Ceri, I have both the book and the soap so please do not enter me for the giveaways. What a lovely pairing. A story that's morally clean and one of Evie's soaps that makes a person clean. Was that on purpose?

    Both ladies are masters of their craft and I am tickled to know them through social media. Jeanna has been of personal encouragement over the past months as I've struggled with my health and the motivation to continue writing. It's a fine line between being upbuilding and being nosy and that dear, sweet woman NEVER crosses that line. I can't wait to see what she comes up with for her next story.

    Evie - you ROCK! Just saying.

    Thanks so much for hosting this. It was a lovely read.

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    1. Thank you Joy. Your comment made me smile, as I hadn't seen the connection between the two prizes! It reminded me of something my mother told me. My mum went to a Catholic school which admitted some non-Catholics, and when the Catholic pupils had religion classes the non-Catholics had hygiene lessons, because 'Cleanliness is next to Godliness'. Is that a saying you have in the US too? It seems apt for these giveaway prizes at any rate!

      I'm sure Jeanna will love your comments, it's great to have such supportive people in your life :)

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  5. Thanks again for the review, Ceri, and Jeanna for the amazingly uplifting story! I found it incredibly moving, especially the relationship that develops between Elizabeth and Georgiana, and the gripping, soul-wrenching way in which Georgiana's suffering was portrayed. To have taken such pain and refined it into such a work of hope and beauty takes great skill, and Jeanna has it in abundance!

    Please don't enter me in the book giveaway, I already have a signed copy (thanks so much, Jeanna!!!) I might try my chances for the Fitzwilliam Darcy soap though :)

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    1. I found it very moving too, it's a very uplifting story. Thanks for commenting Joana!

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  7. I really enjoyed your review. I have read one of the author's other books and loved it. I have had a struggle and still struggle with depression and am happy to hear that it is a subject in this book and handled well. I will defiantly be reading this book.

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    1. Thank you Nicole. I dread to think what it must have been like in those times for people with depression, with so little known about it. I thought it was handled well and would give insight to people who are close to people with depression, and perhaps also useful for people who are at the point where they are able to do something themselves to aid their climb out of depression.

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  8. Very thorough review, Ceri! You do a great job outlining your feelings and give information that is very helpful to readers. Well done! I am glad this story didn't dwell too much in the darkness, its message was very positive overall!

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    1. Thank you Meredith! I was worried it would be a sad and heavy read, but it wasn't at all, which I thought was an impressive feat by Jeanna.

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