It seems I can't go into a bookstore anymore without stumbling over -- and being assaulted by -- numerous books about Jane Austen and the Regency world that she created. Despite only completing six full novels, her name has becoming instantly recognisable and known. Now there are Jane Austen Societies around the world, plenty of films and miniseries created from her books, and legions of fans. Inevitably, someone decided that the books needed sequels.
Unfortunately, most of those sequels, revisions and suchlike, have proved to be dismal failures for me. Most of them lack the spark of Miss Austen's originals, or the author can't grasp the necessary details of the time and place, or simply slap modern characters into the dress of two hundred years ago, and make a complete hash of it.
So my hopes were not too high when I picked up The Three Colonels by Jack Caldwall. Taking characters from Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, Mr. Caldwell picks up the threads of the two novels several years later, telling the stories of Colonels Brandon, Fitzwilliam and Burford.
Colonel Brandon has happily settled into life at Delaford with his wife, the former Marianne Dashwood, and their infant daughter. Colonel Fitzwilliam has watched his friend, Darcy, also settle into married life, but has hesitated getting marrie himself for he doesn't have the security and wealth to live comfortably at his station. Colonel Sir John Burford, on the other hand, has achieved a measure of success, being knighted in the wars, and working closely with the Iron Duke to defeat Napoleon. Along with these three men, there are other characters from earlier tales to look forward to -- most noteably, Caroline Bingley and Anne de Bourgh.
Caroline, the haughty sister of Charles Bingley and would-be wife of Fitzwilliam Darcy, has started to realize that not only is she aging, but that her behaviour has managed to alienate the very people she wants in her life. Being cutting and proud has served her well in the past, but she has finally grown up a bit and discovered how shallow her life is. She has also taken under her wing the rather pompous Mary Bennet, and has gently started to introduce the girl to the lighter side of life and Mary in turn helping to shape Caroline into a more softer character.
Then there's Anne de Bourgh, who has held a very secret desire in her heart for a long time, but what with her rather dragon-tempered mother, Lady Catherine, knows that it is impossible. Her health is also rather delicate, which also keeps her rather sequestered.
While Napoleon has been exiled to Elba, and everyone is talking peace, not everyone is agreeing. None of the fighting men do, and besides, peacetime means a loss of income and the chance to gain glory and possibly more. But already there are rumblings from Europe that there are plots afoot to return the exiled Emperor to power -- and renewed conflict.
I was very surprised by this novel. I had expected something fluffy and inconsequential, but Mr. Caldwell delivers up plenty of history along with knowing his subject. The action moves from England to the Congress of Vienna -- where Europe was carved up to the victors -- and at the climax, a place that no one has heard of -- Waterloo. There are plenty of politicking, where seduction and plotting go hand in hand, character insights and growth, and even some romance as well. Where it really works is that Mr. Caldwell's research is solid -- he keeps his characters well within the milieu of the Regency period, and resists the urge to slip in modern speech and mannerisms. That is so refreshing after reading so many very bad Regency novels that try to redo Jane Austen.
I also like that the author did not try to include a thinly disguised avatar of himself -- commonly referred to as the 'Mary-Sue' in the fanfic world. Nearly every character can be traced back to an original Austen one, which is another good touch.
In addition to the story, there are a few extras packed in as well. There is a lengthy cast of characters, rather useful to find out who was connected to whom, an extensive bibliography and suggestions for further reading, and an excerpt from an earlier novel, Pemberley Ranch (which I have not read yet).
Summing up, I had expected less and discovered quite a bit more from this novel. I enjoyed myself very much, and I am looking forward to see what Mr. Caldwell comes up with next.
Four stars overall, and very much recommended.
The Three Colonels: Jane Austen's Fighting Men
2012; Sourcebooks, Inc.
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