Saturday, December 18, 2010

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell

Pemberley Ranch by Jack Caldwell
Copyright 2010
Sourcebooks Landmark - Historical Fiction
Pride and Prejudice spin-off
384 pages

Darcy relaxed a bit. "The old Thompson place?" She answered with a nod. "You're one of Tom Bennet's daughters? I was told he had a herd of them." Almost immediately he recognized how his choice of words could be considered an insult, but it was too late.

--from Pemberley Ranch, p. 23 of the Advanced Reader's Copy. Some changes may have been made to the final published version.

After the Civil War, former Confederate officer Will Darcy returns to his family's ranch in outside Rosings, Texas. Pemberley Ranch is one of the largest land holdings in the area, as is the B & R Ranch owned by Will's cousin, Cate DeBourgh. Nearby, the Bennet family, formerly of Meryton, Ohio, has purchased farmland. Will has spent some time as a prisoner of war after the Confederate loss and the lovely Beth Bennet had an elder brother who served in the Union.

Will and Beth are naturally at odds with each other, not only because of the war but because Will Darcy is a man of means and Beth is one member of a large family struggling to make ends meet, as well as an energetic and willful young woman who often wears dungarees rather than a dress. But, Rosings is a small town and they can't help but cross paths, especially after Beth's sister Jane marries Will's best friend.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch . . . okay, honestly, I just had to say that. You must forgive me. George Whitehead, carpetbagger and former Union bad boy, has also ended up in Rosings, where he has made fast friends with the Bennet family. But George has not mended his ways and is now working with Cate DeBourgh to buy up land, regardless of who ends up getting hurt in the process. Can Will and Beth set aside their differences and save the town before it's too late?

What I liked about Pemberley Ranch:

Pemberley Ranch is action-packed and a decent novel on its own merits. It does contain the basic framework taken from Pride & Prejudice, yet the book is unique enough to stand on its own. Pemberley Ranch is well plotted and the characters are not entirely lifted from the pages of Jane Austen's work but spun in slightly different directions, enough so that it's really a little difficult to reconcile the two works if you're trying to place all of the characters parallel in your mind. As I read the book it occurred to me that it's rather sad that the book probably wouldn't have had a decent shot at publication (because it's a western and they're simply not in vogue) if the characters' names and the locations had been changed to avoid the Austen references.

The book begins in Vicksburg (where I live) in 1863 and I thought the Civil War and post-siege scenes were done well. As far as I could tell, the historical references were meticulously researched. I had to get a little help from my husband to picture the location of the first scene, but then it quickly became apparent that the author knew what he was talking about.

What I disliked about Pemberley Ranch:

I think my dislikes should be taken with a grain of salt as I've just recently reached Austen Spin-off Burnout Point, but I found that Pemberley Ranch lacked the spark and wit I always long for in a book with characters based on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. There was also very little true tension between Will and Beth. Even George Whitehead -- the character who plays the "nefarious" character fashioned after Willoughby -- has no intimate relationship with Beth, the Lizzie of this book. He's simply a friend of the Bennet family; and, Whitehead's friendship with the family has a weak foundation. Will and Beth also quickly move past their prejudices against those who served on the opposite side during the Civil War.

The bottom line:

I liked Pemberley Ranch, but I didn't love it. I think, though, that I was expecting a closer parallel to Pride and Prejudice and it was the lack of witty repartee and tension between Will and Beth that made this book just an average read for me, in spite of excellent plotting, plenty of exciting action and decent setting. The book also contains one or two rather erotic scenes (one of which is a dream sequence) and some unexpectedly modern bad language. I was really stunned when I read the f-word, not just because it was unnecessary and didn't fit the general tone, but also because I'm pretty sure it wasn't the way people spoke in that time period, although I could be wrong. Right for the time period or not, a little bit of generic "cowboy cussing" would have sufficed -- galldernit, dagnabbit, etc. For those two reasons, the book gets a family warning for language and sexual references.

Speaking of warnings:

I'm pondering alterations to my reviews for the coming year to make things like family warnings and other things I keep forgetting (like the FTC line) more consistent from one review to another. If there's anything specific you'd like me to work on, feel free to let me know. I used to put "cover thoughts" in all my reviews and I keep forgetting to add that, for example. Do you like to hear my thoughts about covers? Would you like me to regularly post links to other reviews? Are you tired of cat pictures, yet?

Speaking of cover thoughts . . . I love the cover of Pemberley Ranch. I think it reflects the time period and location very nicely and the hot-pink frame makes it bold and eye-catching.

And, speaking of the FTC . . . I was provided a copy of Pemberley Ranch for review. My thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy, which I'll send on its merry way in the next ARC book box swap held by my little online book group.

©2010 Nancy Horner. All rights reserved. If you are reading this post at a site other than Bookfoolery and Babble, you are reading a stolen feed. Email for written permission to reproduce text or photos.


  1. I think I liked this one more than you did, though I'm glad you did enjoy it. I didn't mind that it wasn't a close parallel of P&P. I actually preferred that. :)

  2. Anna,

    It wasn't the fact that it wasn't a close parallel of P & P that I disliked. It was the fact that I *expected* it to be closer and had trouble reconciling the differences. I liked the book a lot; I just would have liked it more if it hadn't been a Jane spin-off and I could have just sat back and enjoyed it without feeling obligated to compare. Having said that, I really am burned out on books based on Jane Austen's works. That's just hit me during the past month and I plan to avoid them for a while. I'm reading Mansfield Park, right now. Back to the *real* Jane. :)

  3. I've read very few of the Austen spin-offs but I may actually like this one better if it's a bit more loosely tied to P&P.

    And, yes, bring back the cover thoughts! :)

  4. Iliana,

    I thought Pemberley Ranch was a good book and probably would have liked it even more if I hadn't been mentally trying to place all the characters and compare to P & P, so you might be right about that. It might be more fun if you prefer the spin-offs not to be quite so directly tied to the real Austen.

    Okay. Cover thoughts will return. I need to write a note to myself!!!


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