Sunday, 9 January 2011

None but You (Frederick Wentworth, Captain Book 1) by Susan Kaye

****1/2
Based on Persuasion by Jane Austen. I did warn you I'm on a Regency fad!
Starting around the same time as the original book where the war has ended and with Captain Wentworth waiting for further orders from the Navy. He goes to visit his sister, Sophia and her husband Admiral Croft in Somerset, where they have recently retired to Kellynch Hall, the former residence of the haughty Baronet Elliot and his ex-fiancee Anne.  From arriving at Kellynch, the story follows Persuasion, (so I won't repeat that here) up until the end of the party's visit to Lyme.  It's told from Wentworth's point of view, which allows the insertion of additional scenes which is interesting, particularly as Austen never writes scenes where the ladies were never present and this gives the book a slightly more edgy and less "cosy" feel.
The relatively slow opening allows the reader to understand something of how the romance between Wentworth and Anne developed.  He comes across as an ambitious, but considerate man, rightly proud of what he has achieved through his own efforts, but still occasionally "chippy" about the prevailing attitudes of class that some of the gentry have.  The relationship with his friends Harville and Benwick, and his sensitivity towards their reduced circumstances shows a strength of character and loyalty that could be missed in the original.  There are times when his thoughts are quite cutting, but despite the passage of time he is still angry and hurt about Anne's refusal to marry him and although claiming to his sister that he'll marry any pretty girl with a good word for the Navy, he is far too fastidious and has too high an opinion of his virtues to do that.  Thankfully, Kaye hasn't messed with my personal image of Frederick Wentworth, and despite his charm and manners he has a certain toughness and resilience which makes him more interesting.
I loved his sister Sophia, who is a sturdy, wise old-bird with a school-marmy manner which reduces him to a small boy with her probing and persistent questions. It's even funnier that he acknowledges that and does all he can to avoid it!
Some characters seem to have had their faults exaggerated, and I thought this worked well.  I kept reminding myself that they were different due to being described by Wentworth, who is very aware of people's foibles, less tolerant of weakness and unable to excuse or support poor behaviour or lack of decorum. Although he at first likes Louisa Musgrove, she is soon seen as a scheming, manipulative minx rather than a hopeful flirt.  I liked this as I always found her an irritating and self-seeking character in the first place. Likewise, Mary Musgrove, although selfish and disagreeable in the original is completely horrendous! 
I found it to be a really interesting and engaging read and am already onto the second book to continue the story.  It's well written, the language used is appropriate and despite there being a bit too much Naval information for my taste in the early section, Kaye has obviously researched thoroughly and it does illustrate how Wentworth has increased in consequence and manner over the eight years. As I said with the Amanda Grange book, I can only see Janeites going for these books.  If you aren't familiar with Persuasion, some of the reflections by Wentworth will seem pointless.
Overall, I've given it 4.5 as I loved it, but found the early parts a bit heavy going before the story truly kicked in.