Elizabeth in the New World
Elizabeth in the New World starts out reading like over-the-top Pride and Prejudice fanfiction – until the parade of clichéd characters and racist stereotypes began, and my initial amusement turned to incredulity, then anger, then repulsion, then disgust. By the end of the book, I was beyond done with the entire thing.
We open with an imprisoned Wickham vowing his revenge on Darcy and the entire Bennett clan. His plan to seduce Lydia having succeeded, once freed he decides to remove Darcy from the scene entirely by challenging him to a duel. Darcy reluctantly accepts and is wounded on the field of honor. When Elizabeth hears he lies near death, she goes to him, sitting by his bed day and night; they kiss passionately once and she declares her love for him in front of others, which causes a scandal that damages her reputation on the marriage market, even though they are engaged. After Darcy dies – although not really; he’s been drugged to insensibility thanks to laudanum-laced tea by Lady Catherine – Lizzy (unaware he’s not dead) tries to figure out how to go on with her life.
The solution comes when she thinks to travel abroad with her new friends, brother and sister Edward and Barbara Home. As Elizabeth makes the ocean voyage to Grenada and sets about beginning anew, an unburied Darcy tries to get word to her, and then when letters from others fail, track her down himself. Neither of them are aware that a revolution is blooming, one that will pit the French against the English and leave Elizabeth caught between her friendship with her maid – and the Homes’ slave – Poppy, and her loyalty to the Homes’… and a possible romance with Edward.
Elizabeth in the New World could have got a decent grade if it had ended somewhere around its first ninety pages. Do you like the sound of a super duper negatively portrayed Wickham (negative to the point that, by the end of the novel, I kept wondering why no one seemed to care that Lydia was married to this brute)? It’s here! How about lots of pining Darcy and Lizzy? Over the top evil Lady Catherine? That’s here too! Elizabeth makes friends with an unconventional Frenchwoman and it’s very shocking. I should have realised where the book was going when Barbara makes a disapproving comment about how Quakers “sew discontent among the freemen and slaves”, but I held on. Oh, what a fool I was.
Then we get to Grenada and it all goes to shit in a mess of a racist plot. Yep, Elizabeth Bennett goes full on White Savior in Poppy’s name, and the narrative becomes populated with black characters who behave with wide-eyed golly-gee wonder in response to Elizabeth’s kindness, when they are not threatening to rape our heroine that is. The author does at least seem to have the characters speak in what appears to be an authentic Grenadian Creole dialect, but everything else about them is painfully stereotypical.
There’s also a subplot where Elizabeth teaches Poppy how to read and write – and if that doesn’t make you feel as though you’ve been plunged into a retrograde post-Civil-War morality play, nothing will – which results in Poppy making a risky sacrifice not for her own benefit but Elizabeth’s. Of course the Homes’ disapprove of Poppy’s literacy, if that bit about Quakers didn’t clue you in, and of course Edward is a rapey git. In the end, Poppy does break away to make a life of her own in New Orleans, but the majority of her existence revolves around propping up Elizabeth as a walking plot device.
Darcy, meanwhile, goes on a journey with a bunch of members of the rebellion, all of whom refuse to come to life. Everything that happens to him after surviving being buried alive is dull except for him meeting the gregarious Foster, the best character in the novel; and everything that happens to Elizabeth bounces between brutally horrible and awkward.
The sad thing is that Mooha’s work – without the stereotypical characters and the strange plotting choices – might have some potential. Alas, Elizabeth in the New World is bogged down and ultimately suffers as a result of its clichés.
Note: This book contains several scenes of sexual assault.
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