My friend Nicole gifted me these for Christmas – a Pride and Prejudice retelling spun into a fantasy series. These had the potential to be really good or really cheesy, but either way, I was interested to see how they were handled.
Sadly, I didn’t find them all that enjoyable. They weren’t cheesy enough (or really cheesy at all) to keep me hooked. I ended up DNF-ing the second book at about the halfway point (my third DNF of the year already!), though the first book was…decent?
Heartstone by Elle Katharine White
My Edition: Paperback – 333 pages – 2016 – Harper Voyager – ISBN: 9780062451941
Aliza Bentaine lives in Merybourne Manor, a place recently come under the attack of a swarm of gryphons. The beasts have already claimed the lives of one of her younger sisters and the Bentaines are relieved when a group of Riders arrive to root out and destroy the horde. One of the riders, more haughty and cold than the others, soon finds himself at odds with Aliza, though the two can’t seem to stay away from each other. But amidst their budding romance, something dark is brewing, something far more dangerous and powerful than mere gryphons.
As usual, I fail to describe the book in an enticing way, because I was aiming for succinctness. There’s a lot going on this book beyond the typical P&P romance plot.
First, let me start by ranting about something mostly petty: character names.
I hate them.
Aliza is acceptable but the surname Bentaine wasn’t rolling off my tongue (or, well, my mind. My mental tongue? Ew. You’re welcome.) So I mostly read it as Bennets. I understand not wanting to use the original character names, but I think White focused too hard on coming up with “fantasy” names. I don’t see why Bennet couldn’t be their last name still. Darcy became Daired (also not something that flowed), Lydia was Leyda (which made me think of that ladybug Pokemon), and Collins became Wynce Curdle! SERIOUSLY. Even Angelina (the Jane) was shortened to Anjey. The names just didn’t work for me and had a tendency to take me out of the story.
Ok, on to the real stuff.
Mari, while incredibly minor, was handled well. If y’all read my Mary B. review (you should, if you haven’t), you know I like to see Mary’s character given proper development. In this universe, Mari is knowledgeable about the magical beasts of the land and her family, or at least Aliza, appreciates her intelligence. Her family doesn’t mind that she prefers to stay home and study and she’s not treated like some big nerd that no man could ever love. She doesn’t have much of a part overall, but I appreciated her nonetheless and needed to recognize her!
In this land, all manner of mythical beasts exist, from trolls to hobgoblins, harpies to lamias, dragons, lindworms and everything in between. The Riders, those trained to partner with creatures that ally with humans, like dragons, are specially trained to do battle with creatures who are against humans, like gryphons. Some creatures are more neutral, like trolls. I like this aspect – it’s not just everything non-human trying to eradicate humans and some creatures are just like, “nah, keep us out of it.” There’s also a little religion mixed in, with the Fourfold god – which seems to really be one god with four aspects that people can worship.
So Darcy – er, Daired – is a Rider and Aliza is just a regular human, referred to as a nakla. He shows up with his gang of Riders to rid Merybourne Manor of the gryphons which have already claimed the life of Kitty (or whatever her fantasy name was.) Aliza gets involved because she knows the land and soon finds herself fending off a gryphon. The relationships in the original follow much the same flow in this, just with monsters involved. That, and, one of the workers at the Manor (“Charlotte’s” father) gets involved with some literally shadowy figures, that are putting the residents of the Manor at further risk. Aliza finds herself investigating that group as well as being involved with the comings and goings of the riders.
Despite the plot of Pride and Prejudice being redone so many times, and probably a bit clichéd at this point, it’s one I love. I don’t think it really worked for me in this interpretation though. I didn’t come to care for Aliza or Daired and wasn’t feeling the tension, romantic or otherwise, between them. I’m not sure if it was White’s writing or if the fantasy elements kind of overtook the character development.
In addition, the dragons didn’t really do anything for me either. They all speak a common tongue that all humans can understand, as well as their own language which the Riders learn. I’m not sure why, but the dragons speaking common “English” diminished something for me. It makes sense that they should have a way to communicate with their riders, but the main dragon’s vernacular didn’t feel any different from any of the human characters, so she didn’t really feel like a dragon most times.
The end of the book culminates in a large battle against a giant, evil creature and it was…underwhelming. I think part of my issue is that I didn’t really care for any of the characters, so the stakes were low. Also, despite Kitty already being dead when the story opened, I didn’t really think any of the major players’ lives were at stake. Turns out there is one death, but it had zero impact on me. The last battle felt a little rushed and messy, it was hard to imagine and there was so much going on; maybe if it had been simplified in some way, it would have had more of an impact for me.
Overall, this was a middle-of-the-road read. White’s writing wasn’t bad, it just didn’t grab me. It’s not something I’d really recommend to casual Pride and Prejudice fans or fantasy fans. If you’re really interested in getting your hands on every interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, then check this out. It’s not one I’ll be returning to though.
Dragondshadow by Elle Katharine White
My Edition: Paperback – 381 pages – 2017 – Harper Voyager – ISBN: 9780062747969
Aliza and Alastair are on their honeymoon, when Alastair gets a contract to assist residents of the remote Castle Selwyn. Creatures, both friendly to humans and not, and some humans, are being slain by a mysterious predator. Daired accepts the contract and Aliza insists on accompanying him, despite being untrained and defenseless…
That’s pretty much about what I can say about the plot, because I didn’t finish the book. I continued the series because Nicole gave me both and I did want to see where the plot would go, after the Pride and Prejudice storyline was complete.
I thought I was interested in the plot, but the first portion of the book is Aliza and Daired’s honeymoon, which I didn’t care about, because I don’t like their characters. Then they set off for the castle and it’s a lot of camping, staying at little inns, and flying. Each step of the journey seemed to serve as an introduction to some new creature that was either after them or had been attacked by the mystery murderer.
It seemed like various creatures were being crammed in for the sake of showcasing all the creatures that live across the land. Turns out, I wasn’t all that interested in the plot.
The series was a miss for me and I won’t continue with the third book, but I’m glad I gave it a shot!
You certainly don’t need to be a Pride and Prejudice fan to read these books. I think of it as more casual, or light fantasy with a dash of Victorian-era romance. If that interests you, check these out.