Tuesday, 18 February 2020

The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow



Whether it's from multiple readings of the book or casual watching of TV and film adaptations, most of us know Jane Austen's story of the Bennet family of Longbourn; of Mrs Bennet's desperate ploys to marry off her five daughters, of the happy-ever-after romances of elder sisters Jane and Elizabeth, and the wild, impetuous, embarrassing (totally teenage) behaviour of youngest sisters, Lydia.and Kitty. But what about the middle sister, Mary?

In any other family Mary Bennet would have been considered, if not pretty, at least attractive, but with four sisters - beautiful, witty, vivacious, or just younger -  she's overlooked by family, friends and, most importantly, any young men she meets as the dull, plain one. Snubbed, she turns to books for solace and improvement - not the fiction loved by her mother, but serious moral, philosophical  works - and in a vicious circle finds herself to be more of an oddity than ever

In The Other Bennet Sister, Janice Hadlow revisits the familiar events in Longbourn from a new perspective - that of 'middle' sister Mary. She's dismissed by her family as dull, boring, prim, She looks set for life as a spinster. But with her sisters married Mary gradually starts to come into her own. Mary is now 'allowed' a romance of her own - and even a choice of suitors; a young eligible gentleman who seems a perfect match and a tempting alternative who might just prove to be incredibly wrong for her.


There are a lot of Pride and Prejudice spin-off novels and films (and I'm a sucker for them) - some work, some don't. This definitely does. The setting remains Austen's Regency England, and for the most part Hadlow captures the style and feel of Austen's original work. Where it differs is in following marriages past the wedding ceremony, and in exploring the restricted options open to the un-married gentlewoman of limited means. In Austen's world it's taken as read that a young lady should marry, but not much thought is given to the alternative. As Charlotte Lucas outlines to Mary Bennet what the future of an 'old maid' looks like, we can see why she herself was so eager to grasp her chance of marrying, even when the prospective groom was Mr Collins.


I suspect few Austen fans would agree wholeheartedly in their interpretation of, say, Mr Bennet's attitude to his family, Mrs Bennet's obsession with marrying her daughters to the richest men available, or the hasty marriage of Charlotte Lucas and Mr Collins, but an author taking these characters and giving them life beyond the original text has to pick an interpretation and stick to it - and it may not coincide with yours. Personally I felt Mr Bennet, and even Lizzie, were dealt with a little harshly - though, of course, I've previously only seen them from Lizzie's biased viewpoint - and a few words from Caroline Bingley throw the whole view of the Elizabeth/Darcy romance on its head, when she says that in feigning disinterest, Lizzie couldn't have played him better.

All in all this is an excellent addition to the works inspired by Pride and Prejudice. I loved it, and would definitely recommend unless you're an Austen purist.

Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - 
Mantle (Panmacmillan)

Genre - adu
lt fiction, Jane Austen 

Friday, 7 February 2020

The Lady of the Lake by Andrzej Sapkowski

translated by David French

"After walking through a portal in the Tower of the Swallow, thus narrowly escaping death, the Witcher girl, Ciri, finds herself in a completely different world... a world of the Elves. She is trapped with no way out. Time does not seem to exist and there are no obvious borders or portals to cross back into her home world.
But this is Ciri, the child of prophecy, and she will not be defeated. She knows she must escape to finally rejoin the Witcher, Geralt, and his companions - and also to try to conquer her worst nightmare. Leo Bonhart, the man who chased, wounded and tortured Ciri, is still on her trail. And the world is still at war."

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A long while ago (2015)  I read my first introduction to the world of The Witcher - Sword of Destiny - and really enjoyed it, and promised myself that I'd read more of the series, so a couple of years later when I saw The Lady of the Lake come up on Netgalley review site I grabbed it. Unfortunately the gap between reading the first book and the second was too long, and I couldn't remember characters clearly, their story-lines or how they related to each other, and so I abandoned the book.

Roll on a few more years, and Netflix have turned The Witcher into a tv series which I watched avidly over Christmas. Eight episodes wasn't enough for me, so I've returned to this neglected book. Now having a better grasp of The Witcher's world, I could comparatively easily slip back into it - I knew more about Geralt, Yennefer, and Ciri, and how their stories fitted together, I'd realised that Jaskier of the Netflix series was called Dandelion in the books (it's a translation issue; Jaskier means 'buttercup' which wasn't considered quite right for the character). The Lady of the Lake doesn't however follow on from the tv series, in fact is the final book, so don't go reading it if you like a story to develop sequentially. I don't mind too much with an epic multi-book series; I like to know who lives happily ever after, that the bad guys get their comeuppance, and then go back and slowly read how it all came about. 

Another thing I'd become used to on the Netfix show was the story jumping about in time and in viewpoint. The publisher's blurb above puts the emphasis on Ciri's story, but while she's trying to escape from the Elves, Yennefer is being held captive elsewhere, and Geralt and his companions are passing the winter in the kingdom of Toussaint, and in some uncertain future time two sorceresses, Nimue and Condwiramurs, are trying to unravel Ciri's story through dreams. Somehow Sapkowski manages to juggle all these elements (and a few shorter-lived threads) and keep the story moving as a cohesive whole, heading towards a grand finale for the series.

There's a compelling mix of fantasy and folk tales, with complex characters who feel emotionally fleshed-out and 'real', and scenes like the doctors struggling to save lives on a battlefield that, bar their obvious use of sorcery, could fit neatly into any historical drama.

The world created by Sapkowski intrigued me when I first read Sword of Destiny, now I'd definitely like to explore it further.





Maryom's review - 4.5 stars 
Publisher - Gollancz
Genre - Fantasy