FORMAT/INFO: The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch will be published by Jo Fletcher Books in October 2023. It will be available in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook format, and will contain 400 pages.
OVERVIEW/ANALYSIS: The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch, by Melinda Taub is a fun reimagining of Pride and Prejudice that contains witch covens, country witchcraft, as well as the events in the classic in a new light, while also filling in the life of the more under-attended characters in the original.
It takes a lot of courage to even think of basing a book on a beloved classic that’s considered an evergreen hit. I wish the applaud the author for not only doing that, but for also weaving a compelling tale that clearly shows love for Austen’s masterpiece. I’m always quite difficult to please as far as anything remotely trying to work around it is concerned, but the treatment of Lydia Bennett character, as well as the way it was done, quite won me over.
Let’s set some expectations first. This is not really an event-to-event retelling, it just uses the timeline of the story to make connections to Lydia’s life, and to some extent Kitty’s, and you can’t possibly predict most of what happens. Written in an epistolary format, split between the titular character’s past timeline that recount her life during the times that primarily focus on Jane and Lizzie in the novel. It doesn’t recount the story event by event, but is rather a deft reimagining that adds a lot of nuance to her character. Mary gets her fair share of attention too, and it’s quite amusing to read Lydia’s version of her behaviour.
The first two chapters intrigued me, and once I got through them, there weren’t many waking moments that I didn’t want to pick this book up. The only part that I struggled with was around the middle, which in my opinion, went off the rails and meandered as far as pacing was concerned. If I were to be extremely nitpicky, I would say that a certain revelation at the end was a bit too conveniently dropped. But there was an uptick in pace around the resolution of the conflict, and the book tied the loose ends up quite neatly, and in quite a satisfactory manner that I ended my read on a high.
It addresses all the minutae in the relationships between the characters that I grew to notice as I got older, including how Mr. Bennet might have been a bit too over-indulgent with Elizabeth, and how the younger siblings were under-attended, as well as his borderline terrible behaviour with his wife. This also stresses on a lot of the unfortunate realities of life in that era, as Mary grows up to realise that it’s class and connections that matter everywhere in society, as well as perceived behaviour of individuals, and the stark difference between how men and women face different consequences.
And what’s exciting, is the part that magic has to play. There are many witches and familiars, country and urban covens, including one with a name I assume is a fond throwback to The Princess Diaries movie, and lots of page time devoted to Lydia learning about the craft from the aunt mentioned in the classic, as well as her learnings and re-learnings from making mistakes of various proportions. The plot is largely driven by her necessity to get herself and her favourite character out of the clutches of an old, greedy power, and it puts much of her elopement in a new light. Miss Darcy plays a part in the present timeline too, and events concerning her are high in stakes, but also show the nicer sides of Lydia. All of this might sound very serious, but the writing by Lydia’s pen ensures that there are many things to find amusing. I admit, I did put my book down and laughed till my sides ached at Lydia’s disdainful summary of how Lizzie and Jane found love, and even the parts that discovered Darcy’s demeanour.
CONCLUSION: The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennet, Witch is a book to savour. It retains all of little bits of character traits from Pride and Prejudice that add flavour to the classic, and tells of stories with witches and familiars, covens and fantastical forces in a clever manner. A book that will likely delight even the most protective of Austen fans.