I’ve probably said this before, but since it’s my reasoning and it usually bears out my feelings, I’ll say it again. I don’t read many anthologies, mostly because it takes an exceptionally good author to make a shorter length story work. I usually really enjoy one, only like another of the three or four offerings in any anthology, and the other(s) ends up being ho-hum. That’s exactly what happened in this anthology.
Mr. Darcy’s Christmas Carol by Carolyn Eberhart
This novella uses Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as its theme. Two reasons this story didn’t work really work for me. Dickens’ theme is used in varying ways during every year’s holiday season. Even with different characters and different scenes played out, it’s still the same story and doesn’t do much for me since there’s really nothing that new about it. This next reason will probably have you scoffing at me, but nothin’ I can do about that. I’ve never read Pride and Prejudice. I have no idea what Darcy was like throughout that book and before he met Elizabeth. I’ve read only one other author’s vision of their life after P&P. So when Darcy is portrayed as a selfish and arrogant man who needs the help of spirits to insure a happy future for him without Elizabeth in his life, that doesn’t mesh with the only Darcy I have in my head. Whether that’s fair or not, I don’t know. Maybe that’s the danger in having so many authors write about the same characters, especially characters like these who are written about so darned often.
So due to his comportment to date, Darcy is visited by first his father who delivers the dire news that his future is in jeopardy. He then will be visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, who turns out to be his mother; the Ghost of Christmas Present, his sister; and lastly the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, Lady Catherine. They take Darcy through the parts of his life that are now affecting his future, which were lackluster in deed and emotion – that’s both Darcy’s past and the scenes themselves. Then, of course, his future is lonely and horrible without Elizabeth to love him, with a “Bah! Humbug!” thrown in a time or two, ending a little too melodramatically for me. The dialogue also suffers at times, too cumbersome in structure and word usage. There’s a conversation between Darcy and Lizzy, after his ordeal is complete, that I tried to read twice to get the gist, but gave up halfway through the second time.
It feels as though Ms. Eberhart just tried a little too hard in this piece, started with a theme that’s too well known, we know what’s going to happen, along with utilizing such well-loved characters. There are a few moments that work — having Scrooge make a special appearance near the end of the book is a good one — but they’re really too few to bring the grade up any higher. I’d rather have Dickens’ story turned on its ear somehow, thus the author giving readers something not done before. As is, it’s just too predictable and overdone.
Christmas Present by Amanda Grange
This is my first time reading Amanda Grange. Her novella strikes a little better chord with me than the first in the book in that she gives readers these so beloved characters in a light we’re used to seeing them. If not devising a way for something out of the norm, I prefer characters like these to be seen and act as they always would. Ms. Grange has done that very well.
Lizzy receives word her sister Jane has given birth to her first child and Lizzy insists on making the journey to spend Christmas with the new family, an idea Darcy protests because Lizzy herself is pregnant with their first child. Darcy, however, knows when to pick his battles and finally agrees to the trip under certain precautions and his watchful eye.
It’s going to be a festive but trying holiday for everyone. New babies and Christmas decorations are wonderful mood setters, but it’s Mrs. Bennet who puts a damper on everyone’s spirits by overstepping her bounds and inviting unwanted guests and just being her usual blustery self. Not only that, those unwanted guests are as contrary as she is and that makes for trying times for all others.
I did enjoy Darcy’s anxiousness in becoming a new father, his conversations with Bingley that most prospective fathers go through. I also like the twist on the scenes that include a prospective beau for Kitty. All in all a nice holiday read.
A Darcy Christmas by Sharon Lathan
This novella by Ms. Lathan is the best of the bunch. She begins in the prologue with Darcy enjoying a remembrance look at a family portrait, calling forth Christmases of their past. At first I thought I’d be reading a prequel to Ms. Lathan’s Darcy series. In the first chapter, Darcy is lamenting on his loneliness without Elizabeth in his life, especially because he dreams of her as his wife, but he makes excuses as to why they cannot marry. Then the author surprises me by traveling a number of years into the future, picking one of those Darcy Christmas remembrances and sharing it in detail.
Thus, the entire novella is a moment in Christmas time, those that have the most meaning to this hero everyone loves. Each memory is written with either humor, happiness, sadness and grief, and all involve the Darcy family and its traditions as it grows over the years, including sibling bickering, parental love as well as admonishment, and a host of other fun with this delightful family.
A Christmas baby, a special child, a frayed bookmark, a carriage accident, a heartfelt loss, among a few others, are all encompassed as the Darcy children grow older throughout the years, learning about life and love from the example their parents have set during their lives. The emotion, whether happy or sad, rolls off the pages in each chapter. While every chapter has plenty to offer the reader, my favorites are Christmas Grief and Christmas Present. Grief through the holidays is understood by all and the emotion in this chapter is exceptionally well done. More surprises await in the last chapter of Christmas Present, one had me chuckling and the other had me sighing with love anew for these characters.
I believe this is Ms. Lathan’s best work to date. She’s grown tremendously as an author and I know her future works will better than ever.
For me, it’s Ms. Lathan who saves the day in this anthology. Her story alone is worth picking up this book. If you’re a big Dickens’ fan, you’ll probably have more fun with the Eberhart than I did. And Ms. Grange gives a story in keeping with what Darcy fans have come to expect when reading about him and Lizzy. There’s something in this anthology for everyone this holiday season.
Overall Grade: B
Read an excerpt. (Click Excerpt tab)