Review: The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow

I’m currently slowly rereading all of Jane Austen’s novels with a group of fellow fans on Litsy. Right now, we’re reading Pride & Prejudice one chapter per day, and I’m appreciating awkward wallflower Mary so much more this time around. I thought it was the perfect time to finally read this book.

What it’s about

From the Goodreads description:

What if Mary Bennet’s life took a different path from that laid out for her in Pride and Prejudice? What if the frustrated intellectual of the Bennet family, the marginalized middle daughter, the plain girl who takes refuge in her books, eventually found the fulfillment enjoyed by her prettier, more confident sisters? This is the plot of The Other Bennet Sister, a debut novel with exactly the affection and authority to satisfy Austen fans.

Ultimately, Mary’s journey is like that taken by every Austen heroine. She learns that she can only expect joy when she has accepted who she really is. She must throw off the false expectations and wrong ideas that have combined to obscure her true nature and prevented her from what makes her happy. Only when she undergoes this evolution does she have a chance at finding fulfillment; only then does she have the clarity to recognize her partner when he presents himself—and only at that moment is she genuinely worthy of love.

My thoughts

Janice Hadlow is to be commended: she has so well captured that special Austen style that reading The Other Bennet Sister was very much like reading one of Jane’s own novels. That is a wonderful thing, as far as I’m concerned, and this book was an absolute delight to read.

Hadlow takes Mary as Austen created her and gives a little more backstory—we see why, by the time Netherfield was let at last, Mary behaved in the way she did. We then experience the events of Pride & Prejudice through Mary’s eyes, including the often-speculated Mr. Collins/Mary match, before jumping forward 2 years and following Mary as she embarks on her own life away from her mother.

I’ve always been a Mary fan, and I love the way Hadlow has expanded her character. At various points while reading this book, I was heartbroken for Mary, angry at her and immensely proud of her. If you’re the kind of reader who felt sympathy for Mrs. Bennet, though, this book may not be for you. I was steaming mad at her every time she was around. I enjoyed the glimpses we got of the Bingleys, the Darcys, the Collinses, Hill, and especially the Gardiners, who finally got their trip to the lake country. Oh, and Caroline Bingley is still around to annoy the hell out of everyone. I also loved the new characters that Mary meets in London.

The writing is brilliant, the story is fantastically satisfying, and I loved being immersed in Austen’s world again. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice, regency era stories, or just plain great books.


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