Rating: 4.25 stars
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Bennet Keene is an out, gay man in his mid-to-late 20s who wants to find a supportive partner to love him openly. He’s a romantic at heart, but he’s fallen on difficult times. Bennet had been forced out of town by his conservative parents, who made him unwelcome after discovering his sexuality, which is why Bennet never hides himself from anyone anymore. He’s now returned to his native town of Cubworthy, New Zealand to raise his 15-year-old brother, Lyon, now that their parents have died. Lyon is irascible, with a salty tongue and an active interest in older men; he cannot wait to give away his virginity. Perhaps to a swarthy and capable sheep shearer? Lyon is not especially grateful for Bennet’s guardianship, what with his grief and horniness and general teen angst.
Bennet encounters the beautiful and athletic Darcy Tilney while out riding his horse. Darcy is near 50, widowed, and has a gay adult son. Rumor has it that Darcy didn’t quite handle the “coming out” well, and that’s a huge problem for Bennet, who then denies his initial attraction. Bennet and Darcy endure a number of awkward interactions, where Darcy makes some vague overtures of civil kindness to Bennet, under the watchful eye of Darcy’s longtime friend, Caroline, who senses Darcy’s interest in Bennet and responds with venom.
This is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice, with LGBTQ characters, a slow burn romance, and a bit of New Zealand flair and humor. It is a fun and playful adaptation of the classic romance and part of the Love Austen series. Bennet really wants to foster a robust LGBTQ culture in Cubworthy to help himself and Lyon feel more welcome, but also because it could help men like Darcy grow comfortable enough to acknowledge their full authentic selves. Caroline serves as both the confidant to Darcy and the pseudo-Lady Catherine figure, accosting Bennet for his impertinence to love a man like Darcy. We even have a dastardly Will Wickham who strives to mess up the connections Darcy makes in and around Cubworthy.
I loved the spirit of this book, just as much as the original, and was fully entertained by the parallels, as well as the modern-day hijinks. I also enjoyed the people of color—Maori characters who are beloved members of Bennet’s chosen family—being so well integrated into the story as they are in modern society. I also really enjoyed the deft touch of Bennet’s friend, Charlie, who “settles” for a match with a person Bennet didn’t consider worthy—very Elizabeth-esque. If you are a fan of Jane Austen stories and willing to take a detour in to modern retellings, I think you’ll enjoy this comedy of manners and sweet romance.