Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mercy's Embrace: So Rough A Course by Laura Hile

I was very excited when I first learned that there was a series out based on Elizabeth Elliot and immediately procured a copy of Book One. The holidays kept me from immediately devouring it and, forgetting to bring it on vacation, I was unfortunately immersed in another book when we returned. It wasn't until this weekend that I finally plunged through Mercy's Embrace: So Rough a Course by Laura Hile. The verdict? Let me put it this way: it took me a few chapters to get into the story, being initially chagrined by a few plot discrepancies (the kind of things only complete sticklers like myself would notice), but when I realized there were only ten pages remaining, I rushed off to order Book Two, So Lively a Chase, before I finished the first, horrified that it was over already. I was further mortified to learn that I could not yet get Book Three, The Lady Must Decide, which is due out at some unknown point, later this year. How shall I bear the wait?

I find I greatly enjoy stories of redemption for Austen's less likable characters. The authors of these works have a lot of leeway to do as they see fit, not being the prime targets for outraged Austenites (including myself), the great lady's villains not inspiring many advocates. Some of my favorite novels in this style are Lydia Bennet's Story by Jane Odiwe and A Match for Mary Bennet by Eucharista Ward. I have great hopes that Mercy's Embrace, once I have completed the trilogy, will join these ranks.

Elizabeth Elliot is still selfish, snobby, and disdainful in Ms. Hile's hands, but the presence of a great hero transforms her into a playful free spirit. This is Admiral McGillvary - a roguish naval man of perfect pedigree who has met his match in Miss Elliot. He is a positively delightful figure but both his and Miss Elliot's characters' render this book very little like one by Jane Austen and much more like one by Georgette Heyer. Both hero and heroine are bold and audacious, and if their behavior in one scene resembles that of an actress named Sally Hawkins in a certain disastrous 2007 adaptation, it is far more believable in two such characters than in Anne Elliot. I greatly enjoyed their first verbal confrontation:
"You disapprove of the Navy, Miss Elliot?" He sounded amused. "You will find yourself alone in that opinion."

Elizabeth set her teeth. There was no reason to be polite to a vain, impertinent sailor, no matter how handsome he might be. "Oh, no. I admire the Navy prodigiously," she said. "Such an industrious group of men! Bath is filled with officers who have been-how do you say?-thrown ashore? Low-born, dull-witted, podgy, self-important admirals and captains like my sister's husband, who have nothing better to do than loll about, disfiguring the landscape!"

"Disfiguring don't say." He gave a rich chuckle. "And what should be done with the unfortunate freaks, Miss Elliot?"

"How should I know?... Put them on a ship together," she suggested. "Send them back to sea. Let them..." She paused, thinking. What useful thing might such bumbling men accomplish? "Let them catch fish," she said.
So you see, Elizabeth is her own, fully-recognizable self, "still the same handsome Miss Elliot," but upon being thrown into the company of a man most suited to her, depths of her character heretofore unnoticed begin to emerge. By the end of this first volume, she is proven far more than just "the handsome Miss Elliot".

Another fun feature of this book is the inclusion of characters from other Austen novels. Again, Ms. Hile chooses to work with some of the less favored personages at her disposal. Both Caroline Bingley and Mr. Rushworth (accompanied by his mother, of course) are on the scene, the former determined to know all of Elizabeth's secrets and the latter, with an eye for the pretty daughters of Baronets, hoping for much more. They add an edgy dimension to the already rather hectic plot - events in this story race ahead at a furious pace. I should emphasize that while this is a fun book, it is not one that imparts the peaceful atmosphere of an Austen novel. Here intrigue, ambition, and worldliness dominate over integrity and moral rectitude. There is, nonetheless, a lesson to be learned and a heroine to be improved. I predict that Elizabeth's "Elliot pride" will be much diminished by the end of the series, or at least greatly checked, rendering her a far more lovable figure than Jane ever intended.

I highly recommend this book and fervently hope that I will feel similarly after Book Two (having been disappointed before by the second volumes of works published by Wytherngate Press). I will give brief feedback, in the manner of this post, following my readings of the remaining volumes in the series. Once I have read it as a whole, I will review it as such (at least that is my plan at this point). I would love to hear what others thought of this book. Have you read it? If so, what did you think?


  1. I want! I want! I want!! What a wonderful review you wrote! I love how these bad girls of Austen get to have their own story. I also loved Monica Fairview's "The Other Mr. Darcy." I do hope the second volume is good, I do agree with you about the other second volumes from Wytherngate Press .

  2. I waited for months for the second volume of Fredrick Wentworth: Captain to come out only to be disappointed. It's not that it wasn't good, just not nearly as good the first volume. I have the same issue with the Fitzwilliam Darcy: Gentleman trilogy - when I reread it, I just skip volume two, one and three being far superior.

    I liked The Other Mr. Darcy but I didn't love it. It just felt a bit off to me. I will definitely read the second book when it comes out, however. I also liked Mrs. Elton in America and Maria of Birkthwaite. Jane Odiwe has indicated that she is writing another book of redemption (though she wont reveal which character she's focusing on, and it will probably be a long time before it actually hits the market), which is a highly exciting prospect.

  3. My friend had the same experience with the Susan Kaye's books. I read it soon after I read the first one but still felt I liked the first one better.

    I do want to read Maria of Birkthwaite and Mrs. Elton soon though! I don't think I knew about Jane Odiwe's next book. Who do you think it is about?

    PS - you have been awarded (again)

  4. Jane Odiwe's next book is entitled Mr. Darcy's Secret and isn't due out until Spring 2011! How shall we bear the wait! She has been very tight lipped about future books, but when I listed a bunch of potential character's she told me I had some of them (wouldn't specify which ones) correct. They were: Maria Bertram, Isabella Thorpe, Mr. Elliot, Charlotte Collins, and Mrs. Smith from Persuasion. More than that I do not know.

    Thanks for the reward! I feel humbled and undeserving.

  5. Alexa, what is this? I just joined Goodreads and, somewhat sheepishly, put my own books on my "read it" list. (What else could I do? There is no "wrote it" list!) Thank you for the very kind review! As a reward, I will gladly send you a copy of the third book when it comes out. But be warned. Through some sad twist of fate, Amazon will have the book for sale at least a week before I (or my publisher) receive our copies! Don't know why that is ...

  6. Welcome, Laura Hile, to my humble blog! Thank you so much for offering me a copy of the book! I just published my first book, and Amazon definitely had it before I did. Strange, isn't it?

    I am anxiously awaiting book three. It is a marvelous trilogy. I'll look for you on Goodreads.