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Darcy's Match (Darcy and Elizabeth Fair Trade) Paperback – May 17, 2018
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While it is possible to read this as a stand-alone sequel to Pride and Prejudice, be aware that Elizabeth and Darcy have followed a completely different path to happily wedded bliss. Elizabeth's sisters' personalities and circumstances are also different as a result of events described in Fair Trade Books 1 and 2 by Ms. Bedlow. There is enough explanation here to catch up, and the backstories aren't that significant to this particular plot.
Of primary importance is that Mr. Bennet has died, so Longbourn now belongs to Mr. and Mrs. Collins. Mrs. Bennet lives with them. Mary is already betrothed to Carleton ("Carley") Quartermaine, who is in line to become a viscount. Kitty is unmarried and happily baking at Beau Bon-Bon, a cafe in Meryton the Bennet sisters established together in the first Fair Trade book. Lydia Bennet is also unmarried, lively but a bit more sensible, and she's Georgiana's best bud.
However, this is primarily Georgiana's story.
The prologue is surprising. It's December 1813. Our sweet Georgiana is understandably confused about men since her horrible experience with Mr. Wickham. His kisses scared her. Are all kisses that way?
She chooses to get her answer from Drake Midwinter, currently a curate at Lambton (whose uncle, the elderly Mr. Clackston, is the rector at Pemberley's St. Mary's Church). Georgiana asks him for an "honest kiss," knowing he is an honorable, kind gentleman she can trust. Drake's kiss, indeed, is VERY different from Wickham's.
Chapter 1 moves two years ahead to January 1815. Elizabeth is certain that Georgiana is in love with Mr. Midwinter (now Lambton's vicar) and doesn't understand why the two of them haven't come to an understanding. Darcy isn't convinced, but during a hunt with Midwinter, the clergyman (indirectly) makes it clear that he feels unworthy to approach Darcy's sister--He isn't in the right social or financial position.
That's the end of THAT, as far as Darcy is concerned. If Mr. Midwinter is idiot enough to pass up Miss Darcy, he doesn't deserve her anyway. When a college friend of Darcy's, Lord Somersea (a.k.a. Kettering Corby, a.k.a. "Kett") shows up at Pemberley for the Twelfth Night house party with the intention of wooing Georgiana, Darcy is thrilled with the idea. Kett is a capital, outgoing fellow and a good man. Seems like the perfect fit for a shy young lady like Georgiana.
Even though the reader can't help but root for Drake and Georgiana to eventually get together, Kett IS a delightful character in his own right. (Nice not to have a villainous fortune-hunter hiding in sheep's clothing here.)
There are other pairings whose stories are woven into the storyline:
We have Mrs. (Gwennie) Annesley, who is convinced to finally purge her widow's weeds. She is obviously attracted to Jeremy Bonney, Mr. Collins' curate at Hunsford.
Lord Farly (the former Colonel Fitzwilliam) is chasing Caroline Bingley, to everyone else's surprise. For some reason, Caroline hasn't consented to marry him despite the fact that he has wealth, estates and a title--all the things she values in a gentleman.
Falcon Whittle, a baronet's son, is interested in Kitty Bennet, but he has made the mistake of expecting she would be willing to give up her passion for baking once she marries. Wrong!
Obviously, this is a busy book with all these different romances going on. Interestingly, it doesn't FEEL busy. Most of the participants are guests at the Darcy's house party surrounding Twelfth Night. The reader almost feels like a guest drifting in and out of different conversations and observations. Of course, we're also privy to the thoughts of some of the characters, usually Georgiana and Drake.
The house guests include Alice Grenway (and her mother), who is aggressively pursuing Drake and is a more appropriate match for him, socially speaking, than Georgiana. Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins are also in the mix. Collins may be the Master of Longbourn now, but he's eager to acquire more church livings, for which he would then hire (at a low salary) curates to run in his stead while he collects a nice salary for the annual livings. Sweet deal. Lady Catherine is campaigning for him to Darcy, who has the power to bequeath a living currently available at Bolehill.
Let us not forget the house party's host and hostess. Of course, Darcy and Elizabeth still are madly in love. They already have a daughter, Janie, and Mrs. Darcy is again in an "interesting condition" but is keeping it a secret for now. The two of them are at cross-purposes with each other in regards to Georgiana's marital prospects, and it's interesting to read their observations, thoughts and actions on the subject.
Fun story. The Twelfth Night festivities include a costumed ball. Mischievous Lydia assigns costumes for her family and particular friends to wear, creating some embarrassment with her selections. There are Twelfth cakes that have various objects baked into a select few that designate the recipient with a particular role for the day: king/queen, villain, fool, and tart. There's a wedding scene which is a bit of a nail biter for the reader that ends with an unexpected plot twist.
The writing has a nice lightness to it, matching the story. There are a lot of characters, and it's impressive how well-defined they all are. I admit that reading the previous two books in this series probably helped me in that department, but the characters remain consistent with the way Ms. Bedlow has drawn them previously. The HEA for everyone isn't that hard to guess, but that doesn't take away from the enjoyment of reading how she gets everyone there.