Recommended Read, Review

Review: Miss Bennet’s Dragon by M. Verant (2021)

Austin Fantasy, Book #1

Heat Factor: It’s mostly about the pride and the prejudice and the pining

Character Chemistry: More readily apparent than in the original

Plot: It is Pride and Prejudice, but it is also a completely brand new fantasy story

Overall: It was about 30% longer than I expected, but I very much enjoyed the composition of this book.

This book is playing with my brain, because it is very much its own fantasy story about a world at war with a whole dragon-related hierarchy (dragons are actually a separate thing, so it’s really draca-related)… But also the author lifts a phrase here or there directly from the original (or if not exact text then the exact sentiment for that phase of the story), so I guess I’m like a bouncy ball striking the pavement, with each strike being the touchstone that keeps me tethered to the Austen? It’s very strange. I don’t hate it.

Miss Bennet’s Dragon is set in an alternative 1812. TL;DR—when a marriage is consummated, the wyfe (ah odd spellings!) might bind a draca. The variety of draca bound is an indication of strength and status, and the binding of draca is common to the gentry and aristocracy, making the status component even more prominent. In this case also, the entail on Longbourn is dependent on the heir binding (not simply a traditional entail), which makes things a little bit interesting. 

Aside: I started looking up different descriptions for different dragon-things—there is a whole world out there that I had not previously known existed. I feel so informed now!

All the players are present (plus a few more), and all of them essentially inhabit their standard roles…but also not quite. Mary is still awkward and super serious, but she’s serious about serious issues (think social justice and environmentalism) which are more fleshed out and probably more relatable to a modern audience than her preachy morality of the original. Lady Catherine is still an opinionated and intractable old woman, but she also opines on love (and sex) as it relates to binding a strong dragon (I read this and was like…Whaaat?!) and she acknowledges her plantation holdings. All of the characters are what they were, but they’re also something more, something that feels like a glimpse behind the curtain because it doesn’t feel like it’s an inaccurate representation of the characterization we already know, even if it is wholly different.

In addition, we’ve got a much more clear picture of the social and political climate of England in 1812 with very clear discussions of the war with France and of the continuing existence of slavery in British holdings. This is probably something that all of Austen’s readers were aware of at the time of publication, but a modern reader with a hazy sense of European history might not recall that the Napoleonic wars were still under way, considering that it’s not as if the original is date stamped at the beginning of each chapter, and the only references to the military are relating to the movements of the militia. In the context of this book, the war is readily discussed because of its connections with attempts to use draca as a tactical advantage. Likewise, 1812 is the in-between after the slave trade was banned but before slavery was completely abolished in the Empire, so there are frank discussions of sugar boycotts and complicated (uncomfortable) family relationships and arguments. 

In short, this is really a completely different book than P&P, and it is chock full of discussions of issues that were relevant at the time but that are also still relevant and also popular topics of discussion (consider the current news discussions about the Austen family, the Austen museum, and slavery). Austen’s social commentary was for her present and this social commentary is for ours, I guess. There were some elements that were, shall we say, tried and true, and the climax of the story (at Beltane) certainly took an interesting turn. But as I said when discussing the Austen-specific moments, all of that kept me tethered to the story while I was riding the kinetic energy high of bouncing through all of the imaginative other content. 

I really liked this read. It was at once familiar and completely bananas, but also the new elements created lush drama and tension. This book was thoughtfully written and executed, not just a P&P romp, and that’s just plain fun.

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

Buy Now: Amazon

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