Thanks for the photo Goodreads
This might upset the Darcyholics, but I'm drawn more to a Mary Bennet love story than a Darcy and Elizabeth sequel. As much as every woman wants to be Lizzy, I have to be honest and admit that I relate to Mary more than any other Bennet daughter. Sure, she's awkward, pious, and overly serious, but I've always felt that underneath it all, Mary loves her sisters even though she doesn't understand them and they mock her. Not to mention the difficulty growing up as the third behind the otherworldly beauty that is Jane and the intelligence, wit, and beauty that is Elizabeth, then have the unbelievably silly Kitty and Lydia as younger sisters. Poor Mary has been invisible her whole life, in part because of her family, but also because of her own choices.
Patrice Sarath explores those choices in The Unexpected Miss Bennet, a wonderfully written Pride and Prejudice sequel taking place one year after the Bingley/Darcy double wedding. Kitty is off to visit Jane, and consequently London, while Mary remains with her parents. Now alone, Mary begins to take walks, reanalyze her previously coveted Fordyce's Sermons, and stops playing piano. Concerned Mrs. Bennet has given up the search to find Mary a match, Lizzie brings Mary to Pemberly to help with the husband hunt. Like every fun P&P continuation, all our favorite characters must show up in one form or another, so the Darcy household eventually travels to Rosings where Mary begins an unusual connection with Anne de Bourgh and is given a tough life choice. Will Mary Bennet ever find love or will she remain the quiet girl in the corner with the serious countenance?
In three words: I loved it.
Sarath did an excellent job diving into the motivation and backstory of Mary Bennet, allowing us readers to watch her evolution and realize misgivings as well as strengths. Though the story lacked much drama (despite a small reference to the infamous Wickhams) and held few surprises, it's truly a character piece and kept me turning page after page to witness Mary Bennet go from girl to woman. In addition, Sarath gives Mr. Bennet a supporting role, I believe, as a chance to redeem himself from his P&P reputation as an indifferent father favoring only Lizzy. I also enjoyed the dynamic between Anne de Bourgh and Mary. However, the rest of the characters felt underdeveloped.
In addition, the romance didn't quite make sense and was rather sudden, though the book is a fast read and could've benefited from even more content. Yet the themes and lessons throughout made me think and I even earmarked several pages with excellent quotations. The story overall was sweet and enjoyable, but if you're one who loves lots of action in your Regency reads, this isn't the book for you. And while I mentioned the Wickham cameo above, it did feel a bit contrived, as if Sarath's editor wanted her to add more conflict so she threw Lydia in at the last minute.
All in all, this is the second Mary Bennet romance I've had the pleasure of reading and I'm thrilled I stumbled upon it in Barnes & Noble. It's a great addition to any JAFF library and is on my re-read list.... in fact, I almost started it over when I finished!
4 out of 5 ribbons
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