When Kim first asked me to read Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell, it was at the bequest of a commenter who asked what my take on the novel would be, considering it is one of the few pieces of Jane Austen fan fiction (that we know of) written by a man. To be honest I didn’t really expect it to be all that different from the other fan fiction novels that Kim reviews. I can honestly say that I was definitely wrong.
Pemberley Ranch, or Pranch as I called it informally when I was reading it around our apartment (haha), was a gangbuster of a novel, full of action and adventure that never ceased towards the end. Set in the years immediately after the Civil War, Caldwell tells the story of Will Darcy, an ex-Confederate soldier who is a large landowner in the town of Rosings, Texas. He moves back there following the war with his good friend and fellow soldier Dr. Charles Bingley. Beth Bennet, a strong Union supporter, moves to Rosings with her immediate family after her brother Sam dies in the war. The Bennet’s move to a small ranch near the much larger B&R ranch, owned by Darcy’s cousin Cate Burroughs. Darcy’s ranch, known as Pemberley ranch, is located across a river that divides the two large ranches. At first Beth is uneasy about moving to a state that supported the Confederacy during the war, but soon develops a close friendship with many in the town, including Ms. Charlotte Lucas, daughter of the town sheriff. Her sister Jane is soon smitten with Dr. Bingley, and they soon marry, bringing Darcy into the company of Beth. She of course is initially irritated by him due to his haughtiness, but additionally because of his status as a Confederate soldier. Beth holds a longstanding animosity towards all things Confederate, as her relationship with her brother was especially strong and she holds the war accountable even though he actually died of pneumonia. This continues to be a strong factor in her negative views towards Darcy, and keeps her from seeing his good intentions.
Aside from the relationship tension between Darcy and Beth, there are evil forces at work in Rosings. Mr. George Whitehead, a carpetbagger from the north, comes to Rosings and becomes the recorder of deeds for Long Branch County. Additionally, he becomes an influential partner in the B&R ranch, holding a great deal of sway over Cate Burroughs and her land. Initially plesant towards the townsfolk, Whitehead’s true intentions eventually emerge and the town is thrown into the middle of a war between Whitehead and his quest to take over all of Long Brach County and Darcy and Beth, who stand to stop him. How many lives will this war claim? Will Whitehead be stopped?
I must say that the most striking differences between this novel and the others written by women are the degrees of violence and language. When I first read some of the dialogue I actually laughed out loud, as all manners of cursing is used in the book. Must be the wild west, I guess. I would imagine that Jane might be slightly offended though, haha. Anyway, I definitely liked the final battle scene. It played out like a modern movie, full of gun battles and heroic actions. I was on the edge of my seat for the final 30 pages. Caldwell does an excellent job ratcheting up the excitement in not only this scene but the entire book.
There is a slight courseness to the book, and that made it much more enjoyable for me. The flowerly language and wordplay of Ms. Austen is gone, and it is replaced with a more direct action and manner of speaking that I found refreshing. All in all, I wholeheartedly encourage everyone to give Pemberley Ranch a try. It is refreshing, exciting, and hysterical in some parts. It is an exciting twist on the Pride and Prejudice story, and one I won’t soon forget!
5 out of 5 Stars
Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
Paperback, 384 pages
You can find Kim’s review of Pemberley Ranch here