Recommended Read, Review

Review: Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (2019)

The Rajes, Book 1

Heat Factor: Longing glances and orgasmic food

Character Chemistry: Spot on

Plot: Gender swapped Pride and Prejudice, but without the desperate marriage plot

Overall: I. LOVED. IT.

This is the best contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice I have ever read. Full. Stop.

Maybe I should back up that statement. In order to do so, I’m going to talk about Jane Austen for a hot minute. Here’s what P&P is about: financial insecurity, the divide between social classes, devotion to family, the process of reevaluating long-held beliefs, and the balance between pride and arrogance. The story of a family that needs to marry off five daughters is the incidental plot through which Austen explores these deeper issues (and offers biting and hilarious social commentary).

Most retellings of P&P focus on the marriage plot. Oh no! There are a bunch of girls in this family, and they must have romantic partners or we are all dooooooomed! But because the real economic and social impact of spinsterhood is less severe now than in the early 19th century (understatement), these retellings feel dated, rather than fresh. Plus, there’s the whole issue of how to deal with the Lydia / Wickham plotline; the solution offered by other authors, which must involve some type of improper romantic relationship, generally tends towards slut-shaming (oh no! Lydia made a sex tape!)  or homophobia / transphobia (oh no! Lydia married a transman!).

Where Dev succeeds admirably is in capturing the spirit of Pride and Prejudice – you know, the financial struggles, the class differences between the protagonists, the complicated family dynamics, the pride, the prejudice – without following the plot of the original beat for beat. (She also manages some really funny social commentary, and also some less funny but still important and relevant social commentary. Bonus kudos for that!) But enough of the arc from initial bad first impression to true love between our hero and heroine remains the same that the story is still instantly recognizable for what it is. This book hinges on that relationship, and luckily for me and everyone else who should go read this book immediately, Dev nails the characters individually and in their interactions with each other.

Our heroine, Trisha Raje, is an amazing character. She is a genius neurosurgeon. Her poor boss is like, “Maybe you should work on your bedside manner.” And she’s like: “Why? I’m a genius neurosurgeon and I’m going to save my patient’s lives when nobody else can. Who needs bedside manner?” But she is also really dedicated to her family and to saving people and to making the world a better place. Classic Darcy.

DJ Caine (Darcy James only to his mother, but don’t let his name fool you, he is definitely the Lizzie Bennett of this story) is a chef, and he is so pretentious when he talks about food (you know, discovering things like “what exact note of flavor unfurled a person”). He sounds like the guys who get featured on Chef’s Table that make my eyes roll so hard that I’m surprised they’re still attached to my head, but his food is so orgasmic that he has the chops to back it up. He’s worked his way up to the top of the game (Michelin stars, fancy French food, etc), but he comes from a pretty humble background and had some rough times growing up, and Trisha’s particular brand of snobbery pokes at all his insecurities.

I really appreciated how real their interactions felt. In order to delve into the success of this component of the story, I’m going to break down one of their interactions in some detail. For context, this scene occurs right after Trisha’s sister has thrown up at a food tasting:

“Let’s get you to a doctor.”

Excuse him? Could those thickly lashed, hazel-flecked eyes not see her standing right here? That snapped her out of her swooning.

“Let’s get her to her room. She’ll be fine.” This time she didn’t care how harsh she sounded.

“Why don’t we let a doctor decide that?” he said, so coolly he couldn’t possibly be messing with her… could he?

“A doctor is deciding that. So if you don’t mind.” She pushed him out of the way and grabbed her sister’s arm. The action made her feel like she was six and playing at being doctor instead of actually being one, and that shot her rioting emotions right into intense annoyance.

“I’m sorry,” he said utterly unapologetically. “How could I forget?” and then she could swear he muttered, “The worth of your hands and all that,” under his breath.

She couldn’t remember that last time her ears had heated with embarrassment. What was it with him getting so hung up on that? Her hands were worth too much to burn on saving a pot of caramel. Why was that so hard to understand? He should be glad – she was going to save his sister’s life, for shit’s sake.

“That’s ok,” she said, then she matched his mumble with, “It’s not like you need a photographic memory to cook food.”

Obviously, we are still in the antagonistic portion of the relationship here.

So why does this work so well? First, they are definitely mean to each other, but not in that cutting, witty sitcom way; the rudeness feels real, because it’s clever, but not so clever that it feels rehearsed. D.J. saying that they should call a doctor for Trisha’s sister – when Trisha is literally a brain surgeon who is in charge of D.J.’s sister’s brain tumor treatment – is some high-level insulting, mainly because it’s not overt. There is plausible deniability that he didn’t mean call her credentials into question, that he’s just reacting to the situation at hand (ie, his client is sick) as he always would.

Second, the characters explicitly refer back to their earlier interactions. Quick backstory: at their first meeting, Trisha knocks over a hot pot of caramel, and doesn’t go to grab it. When D.J. berates her, she literally asks him “Do you know what these hands are worth?” So when D.J. mutters about her hands, he’s showing that that interaction still rankles, because, seriously, is this chick for real? So we have some non-annoying intertextual referencing going on, but also some clear signaling about D.J.’s character, and what kinds of snobbery bother him, and what level of pettiness he’s willing to engage in.

Trisha’s reaction to his comment also powerfully showcases her character, and the range of emotional responses that she experiences underscore the realness of it all. She’s embarrassed, because honestly, it is kind of an embarrassing thing to say. But she’s proud of her accomplishments, and feels like her sense of self-worth is completely justified, and that D.J.’s reaction is all out of proportion (his sister’s brain > some stupid caramel, amirite?), so she covers her embarrassment by being rude in turn.

All of this is to say: the beats in the relationship between Trisha and D.J. as they slowly work from antagonism to mutual admiration feel earned, because Dev skillfully walks us through their thought processes and writes believable fights, as well as believable moments of connection. The change in Trisha’s opinion of D.J. doesn’t happen because it has to because this is P&P, but because it makes sense for her character and the way she sees D.J. interacting with the world.

To sum up: Pride, Prejudice and Other Flavors unequivocally wins the Darcy Seal of Approval.

I voluntarily read and reviewed an advanced copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.


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