Retelling Book Review: Pride and Premeditation

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I was going to bunch some of these Pride and Prejudice retellings that I am plowing through lately together, but decided that was silly. I have the usual amount of stuff to say about each one, so here we go. First, I read and reviewed Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice recently and it coincided with this interest in fanfic. Technically, most people would not call the books I am about to share with you fanfic, but that’s were my interest started. Then I decided to buy a whole stack of Pride and Prejudice retellings used, for like $3 each, as long as they were on the best-ofs list. So curious about this genre (if we can call it that) and armed with both a healthy distance, appreciation for the story and romance, and good knowledge of the plot and characters, I dug in with the first one that arrived.

Perhaps I was judging a genre by its cover, but I was not surprised when Pride and Premeditation by Tirzah Price was not the best-written thing I’d read all year. I would call the writing “not amazing.” Like, I had to re-read sentences every once in awhile and still wasn’t sure what the author meant by it. There were little mistakes, too. And it wasn’t very flowing; it was easy to get distracted from reading it, even though the plot should have pulled me in. I heard from the outset, though, that this popular but under-four-star rated Pride and Prejudice novel adaptation was a slow burn and to stick with it. I was going to stick with it anyways, because I had bought the thing, was on this Austen kick (again), and I almost always finish the books I start.

This being my first retelling/fanfic book (though technically The Wide Sargasso Sea is an adaptation that could count and I’ve read that), I spent a great deal of time deciding if I enjoyed having the reference to characters and a plot going on in the background of reading a “new” story. I wondered if just deriving inspiration from a plot or characters and then giving them new names with the new twist would not be preferable. Would I like derivative retellings, like The Wide Sargasso Sea, better? The truth is, I have also looked into “real” fanfic lately, and have been surprised to find that almost no books keep the original storyline, characters-as-they-are-on-the-page, etc. Honestly, it seems like fanfic people are less fans (who would, in my opinion, build on the world and characters they love) and more readers who enjoy a gratuitous amount of of startling sex, alternative sexuality, and messing with beloved characters and story which is almost an argument against the original story. (Think Winnie the Pooh and this new horror movie. Or Anne with an E. That’s the kind of stuff An Archive of Our Own and Wattpad seem to thrive off of, much to my disappointment.) That said, back to Pride and Premeditation (which, not being of the online, currently-not-in-the-public-domain kind of fanfic, does not fall into the surprising pitfalls I just shared).

What is the story here? You can probably tell from the title that it is a murder mystery based on Pride and Prejudice. I remained confused throughout about when the story was taking place, but I think I can report to you with some level of confidence (and save you the confusion) based on some things said in Price’s notes that it takes place in the original time frame, but with some strong author’s license. I kept finding myself gravitating mentally toward the late nineteenth/early twentieth century instead of the 1700s regency era, but I think this is because of these wild deviations from history that Price uses to tell the story in a way she wants to (which is acceptable since its fiction, but I was confused in my inner eye, jumping back and forth between regency clothing and London, and pre-WWI clothing and London). Lizzie Bennet, in this version, is not from a backwater town, but from the backwater side of London. Her father is a barrister (Americans read: lawyer) and she, at seventeen, wants nothing more than to become a barrister herself (which is a near-impossibility). In an attempt to get a job ahead of the heir to her father’s business, her disgusting cousin Mr. Collins, she takes on a murder case as both detective (before detectives existed) and solicitor. Sort of. Technically, the obnoxious Mr. Darcy of Pemberley Associates is the solicitor. The plots twist pretty much in the usual way with some fun variations and some rather large changes, too, at least for the side characters. Before long, Lizzie is deep in a complicated case with not only her career, but her own life, hanging in the balance.

Note: Tirzah Price has taken her popularity with Pride and Premeditation, and published Sense and Second Degree Murder and, out soon, Manslaughter Park. Very clever. I’m quite sure there will be three more before she’s done. Let’s see if we can guess the names. Northanger Abduction? Enemy? Court Persuasion? Don’t quote me on that last one.

I thought Pride and Premeditation was fun to read. Very light though it included some of Lizzie’s characteristic introspection and owning up to how her faults had hurt others—and this includes murder. I wouldn’t object to reading some of the other books, but obviously we are going to be starting over each time with characters. It did feel very Enola Holmes in its girl-power, light-hearted, genre-approach to Victorian story. I think Enola Holmes is cute, but I take some offense at its portrayal of Sherlock Holmes as a character and an institution. I suppose some fans of Austen might feel this way about Pride and Premeditation, but they also might just accept that this is not really the same world, just a story based on the romances in Pride and Prejudice with a feisty heroine and, like I said, girl power thrown in. I’m also betting Price had some fun making her most hated characters way worse (and without the scrim of Victorian politeness to protect them) in this version. As for Lizzie, I think this version works. Darcy, on the other hand, is not quite as smoldering as the original. Also, I thought the murder part and mystery part of this story was a little lackluster and not watertight, while the characters where the best part.

A good book for a teen who likes Jane Austen and crime fiction. A fine book for someone who likes Jane Austen and crime fiction and wants to keep things light and beach read-y.


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