Back in March of 2020 I was given Beau North’s book The Colonel to review. It was a companion to her earlier published novel, Longbourn’s Songbird. At the time I hadn’t read the first book, but decided to review it anyway as The Colonel wasn’t exactly a sequel, as events in the novel take place before, during, and after Longbourn’s Songbird.
The Colonel, is set in America post WWII; and focuses on Colonel Fitzwilliam, Darcy’s cousin. The Colonel is an intense story spanning from the 1940s to the 2000s. It has drama, comedy, heartbreak, love, births, deaths, weddings, funerals, etc. The themes involve parenthood, family, trauma, biracial/bicultural romance, etc.; it is a meaty book. And I enjoyed every part of its emotional roller coaster.
Longbourn’s Songbird I had mixed feelings about. I enjoyed some parts of it, but others I didn’t like as much…let’s start at the beginning and when I get to the parts I didn’t enjoy as much, I’ll stop.
This novel takes place post World War II in the rural South of the United States. The Bennets are farmers who have an estate that is doing okay. Elizabeth had left for a while to pursue a singing career but returned home after she had her heart broken by her boyfriend, pre-fiancé.
Moving to her neighborhood is Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Caroline and the Hursts. Darcy is very interested in purchasing land in the area, primarily Mr. Bennet’s, and wants to move forward with his business. He ends up being stuck inside for three days due to heavy rain and finds himself in a foul mood on the day of a community party. When his best friend Bingley falls in love with another girl, (he had “fallen in love” not that long ago), Darcy tries to dissuade him against it and against trying to pair him up. Unfortunately to get Bingley to leave him alone he makes a very rude comment about Elizabeth which she overhears, Darcy’s reputation being sunk.
Mr. Wickham meets Elizabeth and sees how Mr. Darcy likes her, making it his mission to go after her just to stick it to Darcy.
In this retelling, Jane Bennet has diabetes; a condition that is always serious but especially in this time period. Darcy’s mother suffered from the same thing and died when giving birth to Georgiana. Darcy recognizes the signs and speaks to Jane about her feelings on Bingley. He asks her to think long and hard about her future with Charles and to talk to him before moving forward. He was coming from a place of love for his friend, but instead of discussing this with Charles it spooks Jane and she decides to refuse all attentions from Bingley.
As I’m sure most of you Janeites know, Darcy develops feelings and when he tries to tell Elizabeth she rejects him. He leaves Netherfield, a rejected Bingley leaves as well, along with Caroline and the Hursts. Left behind is a letter to Elizabeth explaining himself, apologizing, and warning her against Wickham.
The letter is written beautifully, I’m not sure how Elizabeth doesn’t fall for him then and there.
Leland Collins has come to town as well and is a very rude and controlling man. When his behavior extends to trying to discipline the younger Bennet girls, Collins is sent away, only to return as he is to marry Charlotte Lucas.
Meanwhile, Darcy and Bingley are both deposed missing their girls. Darcy finally fesses up what he did, but also why; and the boys are back in town to try and win over the hearts of the women they love.
Jane falls ill visiting the Bingley’s, as she forgot to take her insulin, and Darcy immediately recognizes what ails her. He goes to Longbourn and picks up Elizabeth, in such a hurry to save Jane the two end up in an accident. Not only do they save Jane, but the incident brings the two together; they quickly falling in love.
Charlotteturns out to be a lesbian, marrying Mr. Collins because she wants a family, her own home, and marriage is something that is expected of her growing up during that time period. Mr. Collins turns out to be a terribly abusive husband, which I knew was coming as I have read the second book. However, since writing that review I feel different about Mr. Collins, the more I reread Pride and Prejudice, the more I feel Mr. Collins gets a bad rap in modern adaptions and retelling. I mean he wasn’t right for Elizabeth and incredibly foolish, but he wasn’t terrible. However, reading North’s interview in the back of the book, she purposely wanted to bring awareness to domestic violence, especially domestic violence in this time period where there wasn’t as many resources or understanding. With that purpose in mind Mr. Collins is the character that makes the most sense to use in this plot as any other character it wouldn’t be as powerful or it would destroy a beloved character. Since we are discussing abuse, I do want to mention the following:
Now for the part I frankly did not care for. So Darcy and Elizabeth have fallen for each other and moving toward marriage, etc. Then at a party, Darcy’s cousin Richard Fitzwilliam shows up and it turns out he is the man who Elizabeth was in love with when she had left home.
Yes, this is where I run into issues with the book. This situation is too difficult for me, as I was raised you never date your ex’s family and you never date your family’s exes. It’s a struggle for me to want Elizabeth and Darcy together, because she was with his cousin. And not just his cousin, his cousin who is his best friend, like a brother to him, who has helped him raise his sister. Like, how can Darcy be with his cousin’s ex? How can Elizabeth not feel weird about coming between them. On my mother’s side (the Mexican side) I have a LOT of cousins, some of them I barely even know there is just so many; while some I’m super close to. But I couldn’t date anyone that I found out had dated my cousin, lived with my cousins, talked about having a future with my cousin, slept with my cousin, etc. It’s weird.
I mean I knew it was coming as I had read the second book, but Elizabeth and Richard’s relationship is not really talked about as much as it focuses more on his life separate to the events in this book. So while North is a good writer, I’m sorry I personally can not get past that. Like if Richard and Elizabeth went on a couple dates, it wouldn’t bother me so much but with the two being so close; I just can’t. I’m sorry it’s a trope I cannot handle.
Otherwise I thought the book was okay. I don’t agree with all of North’s choices in her story telling, but she is a very good writer and knows how to get you invested in her story; just watch out for the emotional roller coaster you’ll be on when reading.
So I promised to post this in February, but I didn’t end up doing it.
I really meant to post it on February 17th, after Valentine’s Day as
“this isn’t a love story but the end of one. The story of two ships forever passing in the night…
…this isn’t a love story.
But then I didn’t like my review, so I shuffled the posts around so I could rewrite it.
But then I didn’t like that review either-so this is my third time writing it.
I have been having such trouble with it as this story is a saga. It is an intense story spanning from the 1940s to the 2000s. It has drama, comedy, heartbreak, love, births, deaths, weddings, funerals, etc. The themes involve parenthood, family, trauma, biracial/bicultural romance, etc. This is a meaty book.
So this book is long, and I’m sorry if this review gets too long, as I want to reach a good point to pause at-discussing some but not revealing everything (you want some surprises when reading after all).
The story is flips from present (2002) to flashbacks of the past and is told with multiple narrators. That’s not a bad thing, it just makes it harder for m to summarize as I don’t want to confuse anyone reading my review.
None of the other reviews I wrote seemed right. So here we go again-try three.
Now I wasn’t sure if I should do this review as I haven’t read the first book, Longbourn’s Songbird, but then decided to as this book isn’t exactly a sequel as events in the novel do take place before the other book, as well as after it. The Colonel, follows Richard Fitzwilliam’s exploits (Colonel Fitzwilliam from Pride and Prejudice) and his family’s.
So the story is set in America during, and post WWII. I loved the idea of setting them in a different timeline and setting as it made the book more…hmm, I guess…unknown. North also focused on more of the supporting characters of Pride and Prejudice-Colonel Fitzwilliam, Charlotte Lucas, Anne de Bourgh, and Georgiana Darcy-with the main characters: Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy, etc-getting a back seat. With this focus on these characters and being set in a new timeline, it really allows the author to have the freedom to create their own story, while at the same time keeping the parts and the people we love in it.
So to make this easier for those reading, and myself (don’t want literary whiplash) I’m going to start with Bennet “Ben” Fitzwilliam’s story line [Richard’s son] in the present (2002), and then Richard Fitzwilliam [Colonel Fitzwilliam from Pride and Prejudice] in the past and his family.
Bennet “Ben” Fitzwilliam
So the book starts off in 2002 NYC. Ben Fitzwilliam is the only son of Richard Fitzwilliam and life is not going well. He is suffering from trauma faced in 9/11, his girlfriend left him-and so he decides to quit his job and return to his father’s home, the Fitzwilliam House in Annapolis, MD.
As he goes through the house, he starts to wonder more about his father. His father was a complicated man, with a very complicated life. There is so much he doesn’t know about him and things he wish he could ask him. After much thought he decides to write a book about him:
Who better to write about a twice-decorated war hero who took two bullets in World War II and lost an eye in Korea? A man who spent his life making every damaged solider his brother, a man who never married but fathered a child out of kindness?
Who? Who is Ben’s mother?
Ben also meets and begins a relationship with African-American Police Officer Keisha Barnes. When Ben discovered a locked drawer in his fathers study, he invites Keisha along, and the two get caught up in trying to discover “who” Richard Fitzwilliam is. They find some correspondence, one being to a woman he loved who he referred to as “Slim.”
Slim? Ben knew he his father had a tattoo of “Slim” on him, but thought that was his war nickname. Who is this woman? What happened to her?
He later finds out from his cousin Maggie Darcy that his dad Richard dated her mom, yes Slim was his aunt, Elizabeth Bennet.
But his mother is Charlotte Lucas:
Okay, at this point of the book my interest was super piqued.
We have a mystery on our hands and I am utterly baffled what is going to happen next. Usually I have an idea of the direction the author will go in, but I have no clue with this story.
Will Ben be able to handle the truth about his father? Or will he be biting off more than he can chew? Will he learn from the mistakes and loves his father had-or will he fall victim to repeating the same choices as his father?
He also discovers a life changing secret that his father never knew. Will he be able to right this wrong and take on his father’s legacy, in the best way?
Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam
So let’s move to the Colonel’s story:
So we start off in 1941, the war has just begun for the US and Richard and his brother are shipping out. Richard is quite the ladies’ man and has been saying fond farewells with one and all, whilst older brother James, has been waiting with family. Darcy is visiting, he is not leaving for war as he owns factories that are producing War necessities.
James is loved by his father while Richard is not. Their mother was injured and had to be hospitalized after an accident involving Richard and both he and his father blame him for her state, even though it is no one’s fault.
James is sent to Australia, Richard to Florida and Darcy to an unknown location (which I’m guessing is Oak Ridge, Tennessee). War life is hard and the trauma made harder when Richard loses his brother. He feels the loss strongly and now there is no one to smooth out the rough edges in his father. After he is wounded in a battle his father has him discharged and sent home.
But Richard has a lot of trauma over the war, and he takes off, disappearing from Darcy and Georgiana’s lives. No matter how many detectives Darcy employs, they cannot find them.
A mystery, within a mystery…
Mystery, you say?
Richard decides he can’t stand it any longer-the memories, the loss, the pain-he decides to end his life. He’s about to jump and drown himself, but before he can he hears the pier snapping and rushes in to save a woman, Elizabeth Bennet. The two fall head over heels in love and spend all their free time together, as they only have a summer and then she will return home.
However, the summer ends when Richard purchases Elizabeth an expensive gift and the bill goes to Pemberley, bringing Darcy to his door.
Richard wants to stay and marry Elizabeth, but Darcy opens his eyes to the mess he is. He desperately needs some help, he’s living in rathole, he’s lost a lot of weight, he’d be making Elizabeth give up college, and his father had a stroke. Darcy is right on the fact that he needs help but I didn’t get the other arguments as Richard has money. He and Elizabeth could marry and she could still go to school, I mean Richard’s G.I. bill could pay for that if he doesn’t want to use his money. But Richard doesn’t stay, he recognizes that he is not in a good place and doesn’t want to tie Elizabeth to all his pain and sorrow. He then leaves (which is good because Elizabeth needs to end up with Darcy.)
Richard writes letters to Slim (Elizabeth) but doesn’t send them. This saga then takes on a new twist with the introduction of a completely new character, Miss Evelyn Ross, James’ former fiancé.
Evelyn writes to Richard and the two continue correspondence throughout the whole book. She marries another man and has girls, the two continuing to write through all the ups and downs of life. They ask each other advice, share their hopes and sorrows, love each other unconditionally and platonically. I loved their characters together, their friendship, and the whole character of Evelyn Ross. I have to admit I think it was letter 3 or 4 and I wanted Richard and Evelyn to marry (unfortunately she already is married [Darn])
OMGosh, these letters. They are just so cute and sweet together.
So Richard returns to Pemberley, and helps with the Georgiana and the Wickham issue. A year goes by and Darcy has been out to Bingley’s home he rented and is excited and relaxed, so Richard concludes there is only one thing to make him fell that way-it must be a girl. And when Richard goes to celebrate Charles’ Bingley’s birthday, he discovers that it isn’t any girl his cousin is going ape over, but Slim-Elizabeth Bennet.
Richard is struck…
So there are some fights, drama, and Richard ends up leaving to New York to live with Anne de Bourgh and Charlotte Lucas-where he causes more fights and drama. He then decides to date a girl who looks about 60% like Elizabeth-yes you can see he’s making stellar decisions.
As you can imagine, it crashes and burns when Darcy and Elizabeth come to visit for New Year’s Eve.
There is a big blow up between him and Darcy, although they tenuously mend it. Things take a turn when Richard reenlists for the Korean war and stops at the Pemberley house to say goodbye.
He leaves for Korea and gets damaged a bit more, physically and emotionally. He gets severely wounded and Darcy comes to stay with him and help him. The cousins repair their relationship, although their mutual love for Elizabeth will always stand between them and cause them to be insecure and lash out at each other.
Time passes, and Richard goes with Charlotte (who has escaped her horrible husband-see her section below) to help with her husband’s funeral and they grow even closer. So close, that Charlotte asks him to be the father of her child when she is in a relationship with Anne de Bourgh.
This is like the worst idea ever. This is going to cause so many issues with the little family the three have made…but Richard says yes and the two are just sooo adorable together! When he tells her he respects her and it is an honor to be with her, and wants to treat her right-oh my heart!!! Having been in an abusive relationship, words cannot express how sweet that was to read. Now I want them together!
After little Ben is born. They are just so cute…but it doesn’t last-Richard hasn’t finished his ramblin’. He has more paths to take, old acquaintances to run back into, and maybe even a chance at falling in love again?
Georgiana is a young girl who stays and studies at home. She’s never seen anything of the world, nor ever really wanted to. She’s grown up not lonely, but has wished for more family. Especially now: with their father and cousin James dead, Richard lost in the wind, Anne sequestered on her mother’s mansion, and Darcy upset and running through the rings of grief. Georgiana wishes there was more for her to do to help, but there isn’t. She thinks about leaving for boarding school, but if she leaves her brother-who will he have? Who will she have?
A George Wickham returns to the estate and lifts Georgiana’s young heart-she begins dream, hope, and even starts digging through her mother’s belongings to take her luggage and clothes with her as she plans to run off with Wickham. Luckily she is stopped and saved, with Wickham getting sent into the military as punishment, (but not the kind of punishment I would give him.)
Is this too far?
Years go by and one day Georgiana runs into one of her brother’s furniture factory workers, Ari Penska, a Jewish Polish refugee. The two begin a friendship-she teaching him English along with falling head over heels in love with him. But is this love? Georgiana has been fooled before…should she open her heart or will this be a big mistake?
Anne de Bourgh
In this version Anne is a lesbian who falls in love with Charlotte Lucas-Collins. She grew up imprisoned in her mother’s home, controlled by her, and when she left to New York she began a new life as a painter with Charlotte.
Richard goes to stay with her and Charlotte but does cause a few problems with his drinking, roughhousing, etc. His disorderly contact gets him arrested more often than not, bringing Police Sergeant Kelly into their lives. Ann likes the man and decides she wants to paint him, the two becoming friends-with Kelly pining over her. Now, I know North wrote it a certain way but I loved how much Sergeant Kelly cared for Ann and then I wanted them together.
Things go well until Charlotte wants to have a child. Anne wants to support her but will she be able to handle Charlotte and Richard having a bond she can never be a part of?
Charlotte Lucas grew up with the Bennets and married their cousin. It appears the match was urged on by her parents, and it quickly became an unhappy one as he was an abusive monster.
She ends up falling for Anne de Bourgh, and after a truly horrible fight with Mr. Collins, the Bennets, Bingleys, and Darcys help her leave him. She then journeys to New York with Anne. There she starts to undue the damage from her abusive relationship-the parts with Charlotte finding herself I really enjoyed as North really nailed the emotions and feelings of coming out of an abusive relationship. Charlotte later starts working as a seamstress.
Charlotte and Richard become very close, he wanting to protect her and Charlotte enjoying the friendship of a good man who won’t hurt her.
Charlotte receives news that Leland Collins, her husband, is dead and she, Anne, and Richard head off to Florida to see for themselves. Mr. Collins was a traveling minster who would pull snakes out for his act. Usually they were milked of venom, but one was missed and he died.
Charlotte goes to see his “wife”, a girl really, that he used and abused. I really like the interactions between Charlotte and this woman, and I think North did a great job capturing it.
Charlotte wants to be a mother, she has always wanted to be a mother, and she asks Richard to be the father of her baby. But is that a wise decision? How will that affect the family they have created in New York?
This story was compelling, my attention was captured from page one and I wanted to finish reading it and discover what the conclusion of the book would be.
I liked that North focused on other characters that aren’t usually written about and ones that we don’t know that much about-I mean in the original Pride and Prejudice we have Colonel Fitzwilliam, Charlotte Lucas-Collins, Georgiana Darcy, and Anne de Bourgh for only a few scenes and that gives a lot of room for an author to create.
I for one, never saw Colonel Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth as lovers-I always thought of them as mutually attracted to each other but never serious. But this is North’s story and I don’t mind that she took the story in this direction as it was done well, added to the characters, and that in the end she didn’t decide to ignore Jane Austen’s work and change Darcy and Elizabeth getting together (I’m looking at you Beth Patillo).
But even if you don’t agree with all the decisions that the author made, (clearly you can see I wanted the romance to go in different directions [I couldn’t help myself]) or have a different viewpoint there is much to enjoy in North’s take on a loved story.
There were some sex scenes, but they were tasteful and progressed the story line, rather than feeling like it was just sex to be sex. Like with Dangerous to Know, they don’t overwhelm the story so if you like reading them you get what you want-and if it isn’t for you you can just skip over it.
And let me say-I LOVE how the story is peppered with characters from other Jane Austen novels. While Richard is in boot camp he meets a Teo Bertram (Tom Bertram from Mansfield Park); Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility) is leading the troops in Korea, and Captain Wentworth (Persuasion) is the military doctor who operates on him. We finally have a Marvel Cinematic Universe-I think we need a Jane Austen Universe where all the characters show up in a book together (and something better than Austentatious)
One thing I also just love about North is that in her work she tends to do include multiracial romances. As being biracial and growing up with only I Love Lucy, it is great to have something to read that has that-like I can not express enough with words how it felt growing up and feeling so different and alone, with no one like you. This feeling of inbetween as you don’t belong to one or the other. North, I wish you were writing stuff like this like 15 years ago.
North is a talented writer, really knows how to craft a story, and has an incredibly command with words and phrases. I look forward to reading the first book.