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Review: The Darcy Monologues

The Darcy Monologues audiobook cover, featuring two gentlemen; a modern hero on the left and a more traditionally dressed one on the right.The Darcy Monologues by Christina Boyd/
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 14 hrs 53 mins.
Publisher: The Quill Ink, LLC.

The Darcy Monologues is a diverse and diverting anthology of tales featuring Austen's most famous hero, by Christina Boyd, Susan Adriani, Sara Angelini, J. Marie Croft, Karen M. Cox, Jan Hahn, Jenetta James, Lory Lilian, KaraLynne Mackrory, Beau North, Ruth Phillips Oakland, Natalie Richards, Sophia Rose, Joana Starnes, Melanie Stanford, Caitlin Williams.

Audible Summary: "You must allow me to tell you..."

For over 200 years, Jane Austen's Mr. Darcy has captivated readers' imaginations as the ultimate catch. Rich. Powerful. Noble. Handsome. And yet, as Miss Austen's Pride and Prejudice is established through Elizabeth Bennet's fine eyes, how are we to know his mind? How does Darcy progress from "she is tolerable: but not handsome enough to tempt me" to "I thought only of you"?

In this romance anthology, 15 Austenesque authors assemble to sketch Darcy's character through a series of re-imaginings, set in the Regency through contemporary times - from faithful narratives to the fanciful. In The Darcy Monologues, the man himself reveals his intimate thoughts, his passionate dreams, and his journey to love - all told with a previously concealed wit and enduring charm.

Edited by Christina Boyd.

©2017 Christina Boyd dba The Quill Ink, LLC (P)2017 Christina Boyd dba The Quill Ink, LLC.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection of stories, some of which re-imagined the Darcy we know, and others reinvented him completely. It is impossible to review such a varied collection of tales as a whole, for they each have their own merits, so I shall instead rate the short stories individually and provide a little information about each. I hope these whet your appetite and encourage you to use one of those precious credits on this fun, frivolous collection.

The majority of the stories - like the original - are sweet/clean, with a few containing a little mild heat. I will note that on each story for those who prefer one or the other, but I think there's a good enough balance to have very broad appeal.

Chapter 1 - Introduction by Christina Boyd.

Chapter 2 - Death of a Bachelor by Caitlin Williams. (46mins.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An interesting take on Austen's Darcy as we know him best, as he muses on his upcoming wedding to Elizabeth. In this story, the strain of the preparations is taking its toll on introverted, antisocial Darcy, as he adjusts to the demands of his garrulous in-laws, and oscillates between longing and dread as he contemplates his rapidly changing circumstances.

The tenderness between Darcy and Lizzy was as sincere and true to their characters as their passionate exchanges.

This story was my favourite kind of P&P short, sharing insights into our favourite stories and characters by exploring aspects not covered by dear Jane. It felt very in-keeping with his character in almost every way, except for certain previous experiences, and was a charming way to begin this anthology and remind the listener why they first fell for him.

Heat: Mild.

Chapter 3 - From the Ashes by J. Marie Croft. (43 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

In the aftermath of Darcy's disastrous proposal to Elizabeth at the Collins' parsonage, he stumbles - with lubricated spirits and a very sore head - to the bed-chamber in which he will spend a torturous night replaying her refusal before writing that infamous letter.

I thought it was interesting that the narrator gave this Darcy a slightly more pinched, officious tone, to contrast with Colonel Fitzwilliam's more louche manner. It helped set this story apart from the previous one, and Darcy's indignant frustration was palpable as he fought his inner turmoil - and the effects of the brandy.

There were a few too many phrases borrowed from the original novel, but they were used in a suitable context rather than feeling forced. Though the letter-writing scene is most strongly associated with the marvellous 1995 BBC adaptation rather than the novel, it was nice to see it expanded here.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 4 - If Only A Dream by Joana Starnes. (49mins.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

An alternative reflection on the same post-refusal days as the previous story. Having them positioned together in this anthology was initially disappointing, but that sentiment was only fleeting. Fortunately, it took a very different - and in many ways more faithful - approach, as Darcy ruminates upon his lack of success with Miss Bennett.

As in Chapter 3, Anne de Bourgh is allowed a little more character, reminding me just how tokenistic her presence was in its original form.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 5 - If Only a Dream (continued) (33m.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Joana Starnes' vision for Darcy and Elizabeth continues, skipping the letter-writing, incapacitating Lady Catherine, and considering an alternate timeline of events resulting from Darcy remaining a little longer at Rosings.

This one was good fun and carried the extra time devoted to it well, with two linked-but-distinct vignettes which almost sit as standalones.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 6 - Clandestiny by KaraLynne Mackrory. (49 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Another look at the famous dance at Netherfield, in which Darcy and Elizabeth's heated emotions rose with each clipped word throughout their exchange. We see it here from Darcy's perspective, as he battles temptation, frustration, and ire.

As their dance comes to a close, they are thrust together even more intimately in this alternative tale of passion and restraint.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 7 - The Beast of Pemberley by Melanie Stanford. (1 hr 7 mins.) ⭐⭐

A fun if rather too plagiarised retelling of Beauty and the Beast. This one was a great idea, with the potential for some interesting parallels, but it was cheapened with gimmicky, Disneyfied choices, which was a real shame. I think it could have been an excellent tale with greater subtlety and more original material.

It was a sweet story and nicely told, but I couldn't shake the feeling that it was a missed opportunity to do something a little cleverer than simply mash two iconic love stories together. The author writes well, and could - I feel certain - have created something compelling that was also more her own.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 8 - A Resentful Man by Lory Lilian. (50 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

A fairly faithful retelling of Elizabeth's visit to Pemberley with the Gardiners, which allows the companionable tenderness between them to take centre stage as we approach the scene and all its nascent promise from Darcy's perspective.

Heat: Clean

Chapter 9 - In Terms of Perfect Composure by Susan Adriani. (1 hr 12 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As Darcy ruminates upon Wickham's misdeeds and his own poor handling thereof, Lydia's wedding comes and goes and Mr Gardiner questions his intentions toward Lizzy.

I have always liked the Gardiner's and their welcoming acceptance of their nieces. I felt that Mr Gardiner was well-drawn here and a plausible confidant for our reserved hero.

There was also a very interesting exchange with Lady Catherine, which toyed mischievously with the original text in a way that was equal parts sacrilegious and delightful.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 10 - Without Affection by Jan Hahn. (1 hr 4 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

50 Years after marrying, an ageing Darcy reflects upon life with his beloved Elizabeth, and the turbulence he experienced when parenthood shattered his peace of mind.

I do wish authors wouldn't try to shoehorn expressions into their stories because they think them to be quintessentially British, as they often sit somewhat unnaturally in the text. This time it was a slightly ill-judged "b*llocks" that told me the author was not, herself, English.

Heat: Very Mild.

Chapter 11 - Hot for Teacher by Sara Angelini. (51 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

The first contemporary tale in this collection re-imagines Darcy as an American school Principal at Pemberley Academy. Once I recovered from my proprietary indignation, it was intriguing to see how the characters would fare in such unfamiliar circumstances.

In many ways, these are not the people we have come to know, simply relocated in time and place. Their modernisation is neither true to the original in personality or situation, but Austen's cast provides enough inspiration for their 21st Century counterparts that they are not strangers to us. It was interesting to see how this variation would play out.

Heat: Mild

Chapter 12 - You Don't Know Me by Beau North. (1 hr 23 mins.) ⭐⭐

Another contemporary American take on Darcy's story sees our hero working for Rosing's Communications; run, naturally, by his Aunt Catherine. In a departure from the original, North's Darcy is something of a corporate playboy, and it takes earnest, creative Elizabeth to teach him that there's more to life than money and success.

I struggled to engage with the characters or truly connect with their depth, but if you like the 'billionaire romance' genre then this one will probably be more your cup of tea than mine.

It was certainly a fresh take on the classic, but one which owed as much to Helen Fielding as Jane Austen.

Heat: Mild.

Chapter 13 - Reason to Hope by Jenetta James. (49 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Moving back in time a little to the 1940s now finds Group Captain Darcy in the middle of WW2, joined in the RAF (Royal Air Force) by Squadron Leader Bingley, "bouncing around the mess like a puppy".

With Lizzy as a can-do Land Girl and a fresh approach to Lydia and Kitty, this one was very good fun. With the names of the characters changed it would stand alone as a sweet, wartime short-story, and that is always the mark of a fun vagary.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 14 & 15 - Pemberley by Stage by Natalie Richards. (41 mins & 38 mins) ⭐⭐⭐⭐

This was my first Austenean Western, and as we joined Will Darcy in California in 1860, it was certainly an intriguing prospect.

Despite the alternative setting, the characters were essentially true to their Regency namesakes, and it was a fun romp through the very wild, West.

Like the previous story, its merits do not rely solely upon our fondness for the original characters, and it was a compelling adventure in its own right.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 16 - Darcy Strikes Out by Sophia Rose. (1 hr 3 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

In this Americanised tale, Darcy is a baseball star struggling to keep his head in the game following a bitter rebuffing of his affections. The captivating sports journalist, Liz Bennet, is far less impressed by his stardom than his fans and leaves him in no doubt of how little she thinks of him.

As she comes to know him better and learns his family secrets, she sees a side of him that had previously eluded the media.

This one was quite fun, and I thought the 'Dandy' moniker was a nice touch.

Heat: Clean.

Chapter 17 - The Ride Home by Ruth Phillips Oakland. (33 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

This Transatlantic story is very sweet, and is amusing enough to balance its fluffiness.

Once again it tries far too hard to squeeze in British colloquialisms, which may not seem as exaggerated on the page as they do when read aloud. Darcy, here, is less Colin Firth and much more Hugh Grant, who is already something of a caricature of Britishness before being Darcy'd.

Heat: Mild-Moderate (some descriptive language).

Chapter 18 - I, Darcy by Karen M. Cox. (53 mins.) ⭐⭐⭐

In this contemporary re-imagining, a cynical Darcy loathes the "kissing book" whose hero shares his name.

When his big business meeting is booked at the same hotel as a Regency renaissance fayre, his tolerance for all that mushy stuff is pushed to the limit. Upon meeting a passionate and attractive young Janeite, he is forced to reflect upon his strong opinions and the way his company is run.

Heat: Clean.

The narrator, Harry Frost, was new to me but was a delightful discovery! He was wonderful, and the perfect choice to bring us so many interpretations of Darcy. He had a rich, rounded voice, with a natural-sounding nobility and authority that instantly transported the listener back in time or across the Atlantic.

He also did well with the other accents required for this story, especially Lady Catherine de Bourgh, whose haughtiness shone through her every incarnation. His American accents were also very pleasant, and sounded natural to my uneducated ear, though I cannot vouch for their regional accuracy. I also enjoyed some of his regional dialects (such as that of Smithers) and the clipped BBC RP that is so evocative of wartime Britain.

Frost sometimes read a little fast - which was especially noticeable in the introduction when he was reading quoted passages - and could do with the confidence to slow down his performance and demand that we follow suit. His talent as a narrator is undeniable, but a little training concerning controlling his breathing and pacing would elevate his performance significantly. He is definitely 'one to watch' in Historical Romance circles, and is an exciting new-to-me narrator!

His confidence seemed to grow as the collection progressed, and the early issues with pacing and breath became less noticeable.

His performance will be memorable for the excellent job he did in giving such different personalities to each of the Darcy's presented in this anthology, and I was impressed by his range. Most narrators can put on a multitude of very divergent accents, but it takes real skill to make more subtle changes feel distinct and recognisable.

There's an interview with Harry Frost about his career as a narrator and the process of recording The Darcy Monologues on Youtube.

I'd recommend this collection to Janeites everywhere, but also to anyone who enjoyed the Quill Ink's previous anthology, Rational Creatures as much as I did.

*I received this audiobook free of charge in the hope of an honest, unbiased review.
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