Book Review: Longbourn // Pride and Prejudice without Mr. Darcy?!

Jane Austen retellings are a dime a dozen. Seriously people, there are so many rewritten versions of anything that she’s written it’s almost ridiculous. And of course, the infamous Pride and Prejudice with the infamous Mr. Darcy, the dream man of every nitwit female out there. So naturally in any Pride and Prejudice retelling, it is Mr. Darcy who will take center stage, am I right or am I right?

Wrong.

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Yes, yes…we are?

Longbourn is really, truly, honest-to-Pemberley fresh twist on Pride and Prejudice. I mean it. You hear it all the time-this book was a fresh twist on this classic, here’s a fresh twist on that classic; and then you read them, and they are boring and lame and pathetic and trite and you want to BURN SOMEONE. Don’t break out the branding irons this time, peasants. Hear me out.

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Longbourn is about the servants in Pride and Prejudice, and it’s a lot more original than it sounds. The Bennets almost take back-stage, the servants are well-developed fully fleshed-out characters with plot points and climaxes of their own. Because of course there were more interesting things happening in Regency England than the dull balls and dramas of the gentry, of course an actual working class of people had to exist to make it all possible, of course Elizabeth Bennet is not the center of the universe.

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Also this book is drop-dead gorgeously written. The prose is almost poetry, the way it spiders around the reader, seducing you into the story. Just the writing is reason enough to adore this book.

This Hermione at the keyboard, by the way, doing what one might call a solo review. Clara is occupied elsewhere, either a.) writing a Harry Potter fanfic to obnoxious rock music, b.) crying over Finnick (because we just saw Mockingjay part two), or the more likely c.) illegally selling headless Legolas Lego figures online. Clara is not (how shall I say this?) especially fond of Jane Austen, or any Jane Austen retellings in general. She has not read Longbourn at all, she is not overly interested in historical fiction (unlike moi- I am the QUEEN of historical fiction). So this review is my work alone, and will be structured a little differently than our normal, joint reviews.

Firstly, if you have not read this book, and you think Jane Austen is a fantastic genesis of a writer, and you love historical fiction and possibly Downton Abbey, then I would wholeheartedly and with the most amiable of intentions recommend this book to you. I’d diffidently give it 5 out of 5 stars, which is actually pretty rare for me, to love a book so completely and not be able to dig up any flaws in it.

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Now if thou readeth any further beware of spoilers and secrets amassed like stars

The main character of Longbourn is a young women named Sarah, a housemaid to the Bennets. Naturally she does more than skip around chucking tea and crumpets at people-there is actual work to be done, disgusting tasks like laundering the sisters’ blood stained underclothes and panties. Sarah is obviously not interested in being a servant her entire life, quite understandably. She wants to see something of the world, something beyond Loungborn. I liked Sarah quite a lot, and her need to expand the pinched-in corners of her life made sense to me.

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Sarah had her own romances, her own secret dreams and sorrows. Her entire life did not revolve around Elizabeth’s, so rather than a conversation go like this:

Elizabeth (while Sarah is helping her dress): MR. DARCY IS AN IGNORANT BEAST AND I HATE HIM

Sarah: OH MY GOODNESS I AM SO SORRY HERE’S A CHOCOLATE CAKE AND A UNICORN TO MAKE YOU FEEL BETTER

Sarah in her head: Oh this is so terrible!!! Poor Elizabeth, what a dear soul, even if I am sort of shipping her and Darcy I feel deeply passionately for her!!!

It would go more like this:

Elizabeth (while Sarah is helping her dress): MR. DARCY IS AN IGNORANT BEAST AND I HATE HIM

Sarah: I’m sure it will all work out in the end, ma’am.

Sarah in her head: Alright, what other chores do I have to do today? Let’s run through the list…wow poor Miss Elizabeth but I don’t care that much because JAMES SMITH IS A BEAUTIFUL HUMAN BEING

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Ahem, you get it. James Smith, if you hadn’t guessed, was one of Sarah’s love interests. I say “one of” because there was something of a love triangle in the book. I know what you’re thinking: NOOO LOVE TRIANGLES, because, let’s face it, while a love triangle can be a beautiful literary device if used correctly, the YA genre has a tendency to slaughter them. Luckily, this love triangle followed more the style of Jane Austen’s own, in which the girl only likes one boy at a time instead of irritably jumping back and forth between hot guy #1 and hot guy #2. Sarah’s love for the boy before James, a mulatto footman at Netherfield Park, stemmed from mainly from the fact that he was exotic, so well-traveled, and she eventually realized she didn’t want to spend her life with him at all.

Added bonus: the book backtracks a bit follows James in his time in the army before he came to Longbourn. That section of the story touches on some of the human atrocities of war, how horribly warped and twisted people can act when asked to rise up and kill one another. It was a bit of a shocker for me, to realize that there was a war actually going on at this time, but yep 1808, that would be the Peninsular War. Good old Napoleon placed his brother on the Spanish throne and England was sent in some troops to help Spain kick him out. The things the Bennet sisters never knew about! The fact that Napoleon and Pride and Prejudice overlapped-who knew?

I could probably gush about this book for pages and pages and put everyone to sleep. But, people, there is so much more I could talk about, including a fantastic plot twist in the book that I kindly did not give away. Some of the universally detested P&P characters like Mr. Collins are viewed in an entirely new light. And if nothing else, the book desperately makes you want to travel to England (ahhh Derbyshire and Hertfordshire and all you other beautiful shires!)

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What is your favorite Jane Austen retelling? Let’s chat in the comments!

Graphic Violence Rather substantial during James’s narration, otherwise none
Sex Several sex scenes- tastefully done but still quite sensual
Homosexuality One old man takes other men as “lovers”
Language Substantial during James’s narration, otherwise minimal
Disturbing Elements Children prostituting themselves, other elements of warfare

Author: Jo Baker

Genre: Historical Fiction

Page Count (Paperback): 331

Interest Level: YA/Adult

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. I’ve been wanting to read this book, and it sounds quite wonderful! I love historical fiction, especially the kind that shows some of the more serious things going on and not just “Oh I went to this ball and that ball and I’m going to describe all of my dresses in detail and mostly this is a romance that could happen anywhere but historical settings are so much more exciting!” So this book sounds really good.

    I still read the whole review, though, blatantly sailing past the spoiler warning, because you have a very engaging writing style and I couldn’t stop. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, of course! I think too that readers can sort of start to put some classic characters and/or historical periods on this golden pedestal, where everything was perfect with all these perfect, iconic characters. I know I do it! And so I love historical fictions that do exactly the opposite of this. Aww, thanks you! *blushes*

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Alyssa says:

    Ugh i wish Hertfordshire was what it was described as in the book

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ikr…I want to go to England, just sort of England in the early 1900s 😜 ~Hermione

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Alyssa says:

        Don’t we all

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Jillian says:

    THIS SOUNDS AMAZING. I HAVE NOT READ IT.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You MUST. I think you’d really enjoy it.😊
      ~Hermione

      Liked by 1 person

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