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Book Review: Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

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Let’s get this out in the open. I am not a fan of the Western genre. At all. I like historical fiction but cowboy tales? Not so much. So you might wonder why I would choose to read Pemberley Ranch. Simple. Because it’s a different take on my beloved Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, and I am willing to read any work that revolves around them.

That being said… I don’t give ratings on my reviews but if I did, I would give this book five stars. I absolutely adored Pemberley Ranch and consider it one of my favorite Pride and Prejudice variations. It moves our Regency-era Fitzwilliam Darcy and Lizzy Bennet to the post-Civil War Old West (Texas) and includes a wonderful helping of gunfights, saloons, easy women and romance.

Perhaps most unusual for a Pride and Prejudice variation, Pemberley Ranch is written by a male author. Mr. Caldwell does a phenomenal job of seamlessly blending the timeless Darcy-Bennet romance with the abounding history of this country after the Civil War and comes up aces. He does a faultless job of showing the conflict between the North and South and the many prejudices that were rife in the nation, even after peacetime. Such prejudices figure prominantly in Pemberley Ranch, as prejudices (though of a certain kind) figured prominantly in Pride and Prejudice.

Mr. Caldwell’s writing is fluid, engaging and wholly appropriate. The dialogue is seamless, and the descriptions of character, location and situation are colorful. I appreciated the storyline Mr. Caldwell penned and loved the adventurous aspect overall.

Mr. Caldwell also did an exemplary job taking creative license with supporting characters. Characters who had previously had little exploration by Jane Austen (Anne de Bourgh, Denny, Colonel Fitzwilliam) get meticulous treatment in Pemberley Ranch, and realistic to boot. Furthermore, Mr. Caldwell doesn’t limit himself to Pride and Prejudice characters and liberally plucks familiar persons from Ms. Austen’s other works, including Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park, Sense and Sensibility and Emma.

Pemberley Ranch is a fantastic exploration of the post-Civil War period as told through the eyes of the Darcys and the Bennets from a male perspective. I have always been a fan of John Jakes’ North and South trilogy, and while Pemberley Ranch isn’t nearly as detailed and thorough as that series, it’s a wonderful educator on our nation’s history, as well as an engrossing read.

I would highly recommend Pemberley Ranch to not only fans of Jane Austen but also fans of historical fiction, particularly those centered in the Civil War era, as well as fans of the western genre. Pemberley Ranch covers a lot of bases and does so with entertainment, wit and aplomb. Those readers who prefer their books without any sexuality (there is a sexual scene in the book) or offensive language (there are a few obscenities) may take issue with Pemberley Ranch, but others should find no fault with it.

I look forward to future works by Mr. Caldwell, and I think Jane Austen herself would have been pleased with the Old West spin on her beloved characters.

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About Lori Hedgpeth