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Avid Jane Austen readers know Longbourn as the family home of the Bennets in Pride and Prejudice, where five unmarried daughters in search of husbands with fortunes and their put-upon parents reside. This, however, is not their story. The novel takes place beneath the staircase, where the servants prepare the meals, wait tables, scrub mud off boots and petticoats, drive the carriages, and otherwise cater to the daily demands of the household. While the drama of husband-hunting takes place largely offstage and the family goes about its familiar social engagements with the Bingleys, the Darcys, the insufferable Mr. Collins, and the mendacious Wickham, the real drama unfolds when the enigmatic James Smith arrives as a footman and catches the eye of Sarah, the young housemaid with dreams of a world beyond Longbourn. VERDICT British author Baker's second novel after her much lauded The Undertow is densely plotted and achingly romantic. This exquisitely reimagined Pride and Prejudice will appeal to Austen devotees and to anyone who finds the goings-on below the stairs to be at least as compelling as the ones above. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/8/13.]-Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont. (c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
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The servants of the Bennett estate manage their own set of dramas in this vivid re-imagining of Pride and Prejudice. While the marriage prospects of the Bennett girls preoccupy the family upstairs, downstairs the housekeeper Mrs. Hill has her hands full managing the staff that keeps Longbourn running smoothly: the young housemaids, Sarah and Polly; the butler, Mr. Hill; and the mysterious new footman, James Smith, who bears a secret connection to Longbourn. At the heart of the novel is a budding romance between James and orphan-turned-housemaid Sarah, whose dutiful service belies a "ferocious need for notice, an insistence that she fully be taken into account." When an expected turn of events separates the young lovers, Sarah must contend with James's complicated past and the never-ending demands of the Bennetts. Baker (The Mermaid's Child) offers deeper insight into Austen's minor characters, painting Mr. Collins in a more sympathetic light while making the fiendish Mr. Wickham even more sinister. The Militia, which only offered opportunities for flirtations in the original, here serves as a reminder of the horrors of the Napoleonic Wars. Baker takes many surprising risks in developing the relationships between the servants and the Bennetts, but the end result steers clear of gimmick and flourishes as a respectful and moving retelling. A must-read for fans of Austen, this literary tribute also stands on its own as a captivating love story. First printing of 150,000. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.