I've said a number of times that I love Abigail Reynolds stories, but I have a confession to make: it wasn't always so. Now, hear me out - I spent halI've said a number of times that I love Abigail Reynolds stories, but I have a confession to make: it wasn't always so. Now, hear me out - I spent half a dozen+ years obsessively reading and rereading Austen's books before I knew there was such a thing as an adaptation or retelling. I stumbled upon them completely by accident when I was looking for more authors similar to Austen via a book recommender. To learn that people had actually taken Austen's worlds and characters and written new stories... well, needless to say, I was equal parts excited and dubious (and a little unsure of whether that was even legal? Haha). Of course, like any desperate Austenite, I checked out a stack of about 20 of these books from my local library, and decided I was going to have a "Summer of Jane"... This was 2008, pre-blog, and I needed a project. So I sat outside every day in the glorious weather and just read and read and read...and the more I read, the more disheartened I became. This wasn't my Austen. This wasn't my Darcy, my Lizzie. It wasn't the world and the manners I'd come to know... What was this? Every book I read made me more convinced that Austenesque fanfiction wasn't for me, and if I hated one, I hated them all. (It was too fresh, you see. I couldn't allow for such mucking about in my beloved stories.) One good traditional retelling and one good playful modern story would change that, and teach me to let go and have some fun with it (and, um... you've seen the result of that), but before those 2 stories convinced me to give it a chance, I couldn't seem to like the adaptations I'd read. And unfortunately, Impulse & Initiative was one of them.
Flash forward to 5 years later, when I have decidedly embraced the whooooooole genre - and still devote my summers to it - and I found myself kinda in love with these stories, these "Pemberely Variations," that Abigail Reynolds writes. And I was on the hunt for more, so while browsing on Better World Books, I came across one with a familiar title: Impulse & Initiative. I'd blocked out most of what I read That Summer, but Goodreads informed me that I'd read this one (or thought I had), and hadn't been too impressed. Figuring that it'd come at the height of my denial phase, when I wasn't willing to accept any sexytimes in my P&P, I thought I'd better buy it and give it another chance. And I'm certainly glad I did. (I probably need to track down all of the books I read that summer and give them another, less prejudiced* chance.)
Impulse & Initiative, which has since been republished as To Conquer Mr Darcy - and I have no idea if the story was changed at all for the repackaging - is a story that takes a more controversial (to my Regency sensibilities) variation, in that Darcy and Lizzie can't keep their flipping hands off each other before they're married. It's smexy. And though I like a fair dose of smexy on occasion now, it was too akin to a bodice-ripper then, and I was a book snob. I'll admit it. It probably is too much sexytimes for some readers, especially those who still hold Darcy and Lizzie - and the pace of Regency courtship - sacred, so reader, know thyself, and know that going in. But though it does take away some of the sweetness of the romance, and though it does replace it with a liberal smattering of lusty kisses and, you know, bodice ripping, it's really neat to see Reynolds attack the same story from yet another angle.
This time around, I appreciated the idea of Darcy not taking no for an answer - not in an aggressive, pushy Lord of the Manor way, but in an "I'm not going to let myself eff this up" way. I liked seeing him pursue Lizzie and actively try to win her over, and come out of his shell a bit. It's an interesting - and not entirely unbelievable - way to approach the story, and it's nice because it's active; we don't have to be told that Darcy goes away and changes offstage, we get to see the efforts and the fruits of those efforts, right there as they happen. It's fun to see Lizzie, too, won over despite herself. It's nice to see them both come a little undone, and frankly, there are times when it's hot as hell.
The key to enjoyment of Reynolds' Variations - the key to any retelling, really - is to allow yourself to go with it. I love exploring the "what-ifs" in any story, all the branching paths and possibilities and might-have-beens. And though sometimes those might-have-beens are probably best left as should-nots, in Reynolds' hands, there's always enough understanding of the characters and love of their stories and who they are, combined with a willingness to push that a bit and test those boundaries, that makes for really interesting, fresh, dependably enjoyable variations. And if you find things too far-fetched on occasion, too sexy or too straying-from-"reality," the fact is, Reynolds' writing is compulsively readable. She moves the reader along at a break-neck pace, making it near impossible not to devour her books in one sitting. And even if she changes things, and even if you can't be quite happy with every change that's made, she creates worlds and characters that, if you're anything like me, you can't help but love and find yourself craving rereads of.
So, all I can say is: Misty-of-5-years-ago, and Janeites out there who feel as she felt - lighten up. Let go, explore the possibilities, and if you can't bear to see your Darcyand your Lizzie do things you don't think they'd do, then pretend they're someone else. Because you're missing out on some good stories and some scenes that would set your Regency heart a-flutter. You're invited to the party, so come. You're missing all the fun.