Sean Kelley is having some trouble with his dad, so he leaves his native Ireland and travels to Derbyshire where we first meet him befriending English pub-goers. He will be working for Bennet Darcy, who owns Pemberley and “just about everything . . . left and right” (9). Almost immediately, aloof but beautiful Catie Darcy comes into the bar and orders two cokes. The tension begins.
This Mr. Darcy turns out to be an older brother, married with twins, with a much younger sister—like Darcy and Georgiana. We first meet them buying a round of drinks for everyone in the Green Man. He’s really tough on her; she likes romance novels—the story of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam is a “favorite” of hers—and her brother wants her to focus on getting into Cambridge (17). Sarah Darcy, Bennet’s wife, seems to be Elizabeth-like, which Hensley cues us into by remarking on her eyes as her “most outstanding feature” and by Sarah’s being especially kind to people who work for them (24). She also seems to lighten her husband’s manners a bit. Meanwhile, something’s going on that threatens Darcy’s “family’s good name,” and he shares few details with his wife (and even fewer with his sister) (30). Catie owes much to Georgiana—natural gifts at piano, respect for her older brother, first the loss of her mother then her father, living in Pemberley, believing in love—but her personality is so different the similarities don’t seem unrealistic.
The usual romantic order of things is thrown somewhat: before Sean and Catie formally meet, they encounter each other when Catie is stark naked (swimming). When she hastily dresses, the ensuing conversation is both rife with sexual tension and highly entertaining as each tries to best the other. Catie and Sean are clearly drawn to each other, though they aren’t very nice to each other. When he realizes he said something to make her cry, however, he feels terrible. Hensley reminds us cleverly that “first impressions” are not always correct (136).
In addition to the two love stories, or potential love stories, Hensley provides a family mystery. Catie gives us a little Northanger Abbey by discovering an ancestor’s personal diary under her bed—the diary that tells the very story from which big brother has been trying to shield Catie. Information about the family scandal is revealed when we’d least expect it—right after an immediate threat to the family occurs of a very different nature, or maybe not so different.
There are also constant reminders that, though the Bennet brother and sister live as best they can, they are always under the shadow of losing their parents so young. There is, for instance, a heart-rending scene in which Catie imagines her daddy telling her the story of Darcy and Elizabeth but then he disappears and she wakes up crying, “Daddy, come back” (46). I know the feeling. This pair of siblings is named after Elizabeth and Darcy, which we learn in an eerie way; Catie crouches down and brushes “clean the soft green grass in front of” the graves of Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth (174). The spirits of the departed “live” through their descendents here. In one of the most truly beautiful moments of this story, Catie acts with great kindness to a young woman who desperately needs help, and Ben hears his father leading him to value what Catie wants to do (272). My eyes filled with tears at the closeness between brother sister, between women of the same age but different worlds, and between departed father and still-living child.
No Pride and Prejudice would be complete without Wickham, and here, Aiden Hirst seems to fill the role (allusion to The Hursts?). He seems too forward—and not Sean—for our liking right away, and he makes Catie uncomfortable. Though we distrust him immediately, we don’t immediately understand what he wants since his family seems to have plenty of money.
Hensley gives us a good reminder about aspirin at the first sign of a heart attack.
Though the various threads of the story are well-developed and connected, the novel does have some errors. Here is a sampling: “The bulk of her parent’s wealth” (80).”Being a lover of all things equine, the American Wild West fascinated Bennet Darcy” (97). She was annoyed “waiting on him” (134). I also found it odd that Catie and Bennet call each other “sis” and “brother,” that a husband calls his wife “Mother” when the kids aren’t around, and that formal Ben welcomes his nanny home by saying they’re “bloody well glad” she’s back, but those are inconsistencies rather than errors (249, 264).
I loved the afterword, which includes several key details that hearken back to the original P and P and show us that we love these new characters in part because they love our familiar characters as we do—and are also like them. Our hero literally gallops “in on a white mount wearing a top hat and a morning coat” to propose, and I was left thinking, so that’s not just my fantasy?! (285)