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I have been meaning to read Stanley Michael Hurd’s three volume ‘Darcy’s Tale’, which is ‘Pride & Prejudice’ from Darcy’s point of view, for some time as the reviews have been so good. I still haven’t got to those books yet, but when I was offered the chance to read his newest book, ‘Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Countess de Sainte Toulours’, I jumped at it.
This is a story focusing on Colonel Fitzwilliam (here called Edmund rather than the more usual Richard) based a few years after the events of ‘Pride & Prejudice’. Although in Austen’s time promotions in the army were purchased, the rank of Colonel implies at least that Darcy’s cousin was successful in his army career. We know he is intelligent, quick-witted and charming from what we see of him at Rosings in ‘Pride & Prejudice’. Here we see something of the Colonel in his work. Napoleon has been defeated, and the army is keen to find out the lie of the land in France should the peace prove to be short lived – the Colonel is about to go on a spying mission. But before he goes, Edmund goes to dine with Mr and Mrs Darcy, and there he meets a young lady that he feels an instant connection with.
This is the same man who freely admitted to Elizabeth that he could not marry without considering money so I was a little surprised to think that he could dismiss this concern so easily. The author addresses this issue:
‘Edmund himself was somewhat surprised to hear his words, as this had always been a matter of some concern to him as a second son; he was startled to realise how entirely he had passed over it as an object, in thinking of matrimony...’I am not really a believer in love at first sight, and to be fair this isn’t quite what happens here; Edmund certainly has a preference very quickly but it’s more based on personality than personal attractiveness, although the lady in question is certainly attractive. I would have preferred a longer courtship really, because to me it seemed a little too quick.
From the point of view of both sides, this sort of mutual attraction is certainly not ideal – on such a short acquaintance and with Edmund about to set off for a trip abroad that is likely to last months nothing can become official. Though the budding romance gets furthered a little more Edmund very soon sails off to France in the company of a Basque spy, Esparza. The Colonel’s trip to France was a lot more entertaining and light-hearted than I’d expected, and even gave his acting abilities an airing:
‘I hope I can count on you, mon cher Colonel, to play a proper John Bull, eh? A thick-witted, provincial Englishman?”
“I had much rather simply knock him on the head at some quiet turning in the road ahead, than play the buffoon,” said Edmund sourly.’
I felt that the pacing of this novel was a little uneven. The first 60% was fairly slow-paced, but once I hit the final 40% then nothing short of a disaster would have pried the book out of my hands until I’d finished it! It was utterly riveting. There was drama, action, some violence, swashbuckling, and some real grit – I am used to reading things which are a bit more sanitised. This isn’t a bad thing by any means but it wasn’t what I’d expected, particularly as it posed such a variance to the earlier parts of the book.
And what of the Countess of the title? Well, I’d expected her to have more of the story dedicated to her since she was part of the title, but this is very much the Colonel’s tale rather than anybody else’s. There isn’t much focus on the Darcy family either, though both Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth do get some page time. I enjoyed the peek at the Darcys’ marriage that this afforded, to hear of some of the romantic billet-doux that our dear boy has sent his wife, and to hear his endearingly grumpy, yet practical views on people in love:
“Was it not you who swore he would help any two deserving people in love?”
“In coming together, yes; once they are joined, I see no need to be constantly in company with them.”
Regarding the language usage, there were words, particularly those relating to vessels, which were entirely new to me, and also a very interesting section which dealt with the rules of duelling, which I only knew the bare bones of previously. There was nothing in the way of sex or language that was likely to offend and though there is some violence it isn’t graphic. If you’re a Colonel Fitzwilliam fan, or simply would like to take a peep at some of the wider issues of the time then I would certainly recommend that you give this book a try. I certainly enjoyed it and would rate it as a 4½ star read.
*I was provided an ebook of this title by the author for my honest review.
Stanley Michael Hurd has very kindly offered to give away an ebook of 'Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Countess de Sainte Toulours' to TWO commenters here. To enter, just leave a comment on this post by the end of the day on Saturday 19 December 2015, ensuring that you leave me some way to contact you in case you are a winner. How do you imagine the Colonel in his working life? Do you think he'd get into the thick of things or do you see him as being more of a society man?
Many thanks to Stanley for the giveaway :)