The soft music soothed Mary's wandering mind, and she thought about Lizzy, whose marriage puzzled her more. How brave she was to accept such a man, and no one expected her to find her happiness in him. She wondered that her father had seemed content with Lizzy's choice. The few times Mary had visited Pemberley, Lizzy certainly did not seem unhappy, and how surprisingly easy she seemed with Mr. Darcy! Was marriage some magical step to happiness? This might be the clue to Mrs. Bennet's urgings to her daughters to enter the state. Well, Mary felt she could be content without such a change in her life, and she was grateful for Lizzy's sacrifice that made it possible to choose against it. (from A Match for Mary Bennet, page ix in the ARC)
Jane Austen sequels, particularly sequels to Pride and Prejudice, have become a guilty pleasure of mine. Whether they involve vampires or zombies or bedroom scenes that may have made Austen blush, my only requirements are that they are fun, engaging, and well written. It helps if the author actually has read Austen and understands the characters and their motivation, but I might be forgiving if they tell a good story.
I didn't have extremely high expectations for A Match for Mary Bennet, given that Mary isn't the most exciting or engaging character in Pride and Prejudice, but I thought it would be entertaining to find out how the least marriageable Bennet sister handles the marriage-obsessed Mrs. Bennet (one of the most annoying characters I've ever encountered) after Jane, Elizabeth, and Lydia all are married off. But the book completely blew me away. Eucharista Ward completely "gets" Jane Austen. The language, the characters, and the mannerisms of the Regency era (as I understand them, anyway) are spot on, and A Match for Mary Bennet quickly became my favorite of the Austen sequels I've read thus far.
In A Match for Mary Bennet, Jane and Bingley are happy with a two-year-old daughter in Nottingham, Elizabeth and Darcy are living happily at Pemberley and expecting their first child, and Lydia is who knows where with the scoundrel Wickham. While Mrs. Bennet plans to parade her last two unmarried daughters, Mary and Kitty (known as Catherine through much of the book), to whatever ball or event might attract marriageable men, Mary would much rather be reading, playing the pianoforte, and going to church. She has no plans at all to marry, and she admires Elizabeth for "sacrificing" her happiness by marrying the arrogant Mr. Darcy so that she will never be penniless or homeless if she remains unmarried. As she travels between Longbourne, Pemberley, and Otherfield (the nickname for the new Bingley estate), Mary has time to observe her sisters' marriages, and she discovers she may have things all wrong. And while Mary juggles the attention of three (count them -- three!) men, she aims to set herself up so that marriage never has to be an option.
Ward gives Pride and Prejudice fans plenty of scenes with Elizabeth and Darcy, Jane and Bingley, Mr. Bennet, Georgiana Darcy, Mrs. Reynolds, and Mrs. Gardiner, and even Lady Catherine, Anne, Mr. Collins, Caroline Bingley, and of course, Mrs. Bennet appear. She introduces plenty of interesting new characters as well, namely Miss Johnstone, a kleptomaniac with a crush on Darcy; James Stilton, a fashionable man with some musical talent and a gambling problem; and Steven Oliver, the charming pastor at Kympton who gets Mary to see that maybe her opinions of Lydia have been too harsh.
I loved that A Match for Mary Bennet was so well written and authentic that I never questioned a character's actions when comparing them to Pride and Prejudice, and I actually forgot several times that I wasn't reading a book written by Austen herself. It was a tad predictable, but that didn't ruin it for me at all. I highly recommend this book, especially if you've never thought about reading an Austen sequel.
If you're interested in giving A Match for Mary Bennet a try, you're in luck! I have 1 copy to give away, courtesy of Sourcebooks. Just leave a comment on this post telling me what you think about the numerous Austen sequels being released these days, and include your e-mail address. Because the publisher is handling the shipping, this giveaway is open only to U.S. and Canada. This giveaway will close on Sunday, Oct. 18, at 11:59 EST.
A Match for Mary Bennet counts toward the Everything Austen Challenge. Two down, four to go.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of A Match for Mary Bennet from Sourcebooks for review purposes.