* * *One of my favourite things about reading historical novels is the chance to pick up some knowledge of history in a more interesting manner. This latest story by Abigail Reynolds looks at what may have happened if Mr Darcy and Miss Elizabeth Bennet had somehow got caught up with the Luddite uprisings in the North of England, which happened at the same time that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was set. In very basic terms, there was rioting and breaking of the looms – the machinery that had begun to replace jobs in the fabric mills. I assumed that this variation would somehow spring from the Gardiners’ trip to the North, but considering that the uprising had begun to take root by the summer of 1812 it might be unlikely that they would make the trip. Instead, this deviates at an earlier point in the story. Firstly, Elizabeth makes a longer stay with Jane at the Gardiners’ and makes the trip alone rather than in the company of Sir William Lucas and his daughter Maria, which leads to some adventure, and then to Rosings.
Mr Darcy doesn’t just come to Rosings with Colonel Fitzwilliam here; instead he is also accompanied by the Colonel’s mother and sister, Lady Frederica. At the request of his Aunt Matlock, Darcy has been making a show of paying attention to Lady Frederica, as she has been practically jilted, and the Ton is being none too kind to her. Lady Frederica is not treated well (or fed well, for that matter!) by Lady Catherine, who sees her as a rival to Anne for Darcy’s hand. So, Lady Frederica spends a good deal of time at the parsonage, where she takes a fancy to Elizabeth.
At Lady Frederica’s urging, Elizabeth accompanies the Fitzwilliam family party, including Darcy, to the North, where two of Darcy’s old friends are in serious trouble. It is considered treasonous to speak up for the rights of ordinary men and this what these ‘radicals’ have been doing. However, the danger of the situation has been underestimated by the party. Elizabeth, Darcy and the Fitzwilliam family, now further expanded to include another Fitzwilliam son, Jasper, find themselves caught up in the violence.
The Fitzwilliam family are certainly a bunch of characters – Colonel Fitzwilliam and his brother are both fond of a fight, and their sister has certainly not been brought up to be meek and mild. Their mama is a very managing female who nearly always manages to get her own way. The whole family is talkative and don’t see a need for privacy in their conversations:
‘It had been a most uncomfortable half an hour, having to pretend the various confessions of treason, slapping, confrontations, challenges, betrothal demand and family crises occurring were typical drawing room conversations.’This was a very fun adventure and I was never quite sure what was coming next. It was interesting to see some of the scenes that towns such as Sheffield might have experienced when the Luddites revolted, and to imagine the steps that people who believed in the rights of their fellow men might have taken to rectify matters. Though this subject matter could be quite heavy, the story is not, it’s quite humorous. The Fitzwilliam family are such big personalities that they quite take over the story and the Darcy and Elizabeth storyline is a little pushed to the side at times, so it’s not highly romantic like some of this author’s other stories, though there are some lovely romantic touches sprinkled here and there, and the couple both have a way to go in understanding the other and learning to see things from the other’s point of view.
There are no sex scenes in this story, and although some of the characters are the victims of violence, it’s all off-page, so there are no distressing scenes. I’d certainly recommend this book as I very much enjoyed it. This is a 4 star read for me.