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."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".
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 the...you 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.
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?