published: 21st October 2019
spoilers? some yes
Elisa Benitez is proud of who she is, from her bitingly sarcastic remarks, to her love of both pretty boys and pretty girls. If someone doesn’t like her, that’s their problem, and Elisa couldn’t care less. Particularly if that person is Darcy Fitzgerald, a snobby, socially awkward heiress with an attitude problem and more money than she knows what to do with.
From the moment they meet, Elisa and Darcy are at each other’s throats — which is a bit unfortunate, since Darcy’s best friend is dating Elisa’s sister. It quickly becomes clear that fate intends to throw the two of them together, whether they like it or not. As hers and Darcy’s lives become more and more entwined, Elisa’s once-dull world quickly spirals into chaos in this story of pride, prejudice, and finding love with the people you least expect.
Galley provided by publisher
CWs: domestic abuse, statutory rape
I should preface this review by saying that I have very high standards for Austen retellings (probably overly so, if we’re honest). So I try going in with lowered expectations.
That said, I don’t think my expectations could have been lower here and I was still hugely disappointed.
Most Ardently is almost a direct retelling of Pride and Prejudice (no bad thing in itself), but where Darcy is a woman (and various other diversifying changes are made, true). But it’s a fairly superficial retelling. Yes, it gets all the events (even those that don’t really work in a modern setting), but it misses out in a big way on the rest of it. As this review points out better than I ever could, Austen is full of social commentaries on top of the romance, and this book has clearly overlooked the former in favour of the latter. (Or perhaps not overlooked so much as failed to transplant them into a modern setting. Understandable given that some are uniquely Regency.)
But hey, you say. You’re just being a Jane Austen snob right now.
Which is fair enough. So what about if I took the fact that this is a retelling out of the equation.
Firstly, the writing was just awkward for me. Mainly the dialogue which felt entirely forced at some points, but also that bane of writers everywhere – ‘show don’t tell’. It’s trite, I know, but I felt like I was told a lot of aspects, particularly of characterisation, rather than being shown them. Couple that with the clunkiness of the writing and I was bored and skimming after about one chapter. If that.
Secondly, I didn’t really like either Elisa or Darcy as characters. The argument that sets them up as ‘enemies’ is so contrived (and also non-existent in the book, where Lizzie only overhears Darcy insulting her, but I promised to keep the retelling part out of it, didn’t I). And neither of them really improved throughout the book.
Then there were the interludes with the other characters’ POVs. No, I don’t wish to feel sorry for the Mr Collins character, thank you.
Finally (and I do have to go back to it being a retelling here), some events just don’t work transplanted into a modern setting – namely, everything with the Wickham character (Wick? I genuinely don’t remember any characters’ names but this and ‘Bobby’ and ‘Charlene’ felt so pointless as changes that they stuck). Not only is the timeframe too short for events to be so believable, but because what was unacceptable then doesn’t matter now (unmarried man and woman alone together), it’s clearly just been ramped up to make it worse (22 year-old running off with a 14 year-old, them having sex, and okay let’s throw some domestic violence in there too). I can’t believe I’m even remotely defending George Wickham right now, but he never felt this bad. He’s a cad, not a paedophile/child rapist (by the social norms of the time of course).
Ultimately, then, I was disappointed, but was I surprised about that? Not one bit.