Desert Isle Keeper
Most Ardently is a fun, easy on the soul treasure – a femmeslash Pride and Prejudice AU, if you will.
Honors student Elisa Benitez – spirited, outspoken, poor, and independent – meets Darcy Fitzgerald, a mega-rich Kardashian type, in a lit class at Stevenson Community College. They fight over Lord of the Flies, with Darcy saying it represents our current political climate and Eliza declaring that a dour outlook, which brands Darcy in Elisa’s mind as a snob and Elisa in Darcy’s mind as mildly infuriating. Then Darcy defends Elisa to their teacher, and the wheels in her head begin to turn.
Elisa’s mother, Alejandra, decides to fix Elisa up with Robert – Bobby – Charles III, resident of the very ritzy Netherfield Park neighborhood, who is famous for starring in a series of increasingly campy B-movies about slaughter at a summer camp. Of course, neither Alejandra nor her daughter know Robert, but that’s not going to stop her. When Bobby falls for Elisa’s older, accomplished sister Julieta and vice-versa, Elisa is relieved to have avoided her mom’s matchmaking – but also ends up moving in with Julieta and Bobby when the couple shacks up together. That means dealing with Bobby’s annoying sisters, Cora and Louise – and it means coming into closer contact with Darcy, with whom she shares a ride to college every day.
As they banter about the crux where activism and fiction collide, Elisa and Darcy just might be falling in love – but then Darcy’s bitter cousin Wick surfaces with devastating news that might make Elisa hate Darcy and ruin their chance at happiness.
Most Ardently does a great job of both tweaking and paying tribute to Pride and Prejudice’s conventions. The baseline truth of the story – about two people who disagree falling in love, and about how gossip can color and make romantic and family life difficult – strides onward. The whole experience of reading the novel is comfortable and thrilling, and while some of the elements in the story aren’t wholly fresh, they’re still fun.
I really enjoyed being in Elisa’s head; her point of view feels realistically teenaged without feeling mannered, while Darcy feels more florid, though she’s horrible at articulating herself (just like original canon! Darcy). Their romance is awkward and fun as well as intellectually stimulating.
The way Mesler-Evans has changed the story in several ways made it even more fun. I liked the complication of Alejandra being divorced from her husband in this version of events; I liked the atmosphere of a college town, and the lockstep conformity of Netherfield Park versus the looser world of the Benitez sisters. There is some nice though not front-and-center trans rep in the novel; Elisa has a trans sister, Camila, who doesn’t appear very often, but she’s fun when she’s on-page. Also fun when he’s on-page: frat boy Colin Burger, the Mr. Collins stand-in here.
The storytelling in general is extremely lively and has a lot of punch and vigor.
Most Ardently is a fabulous little novel that earns very high marks for being so entertaining yet so grounded, so sweet yet so moving. It’s a fabulous book for readers young and old alike.
NOTE: This book includes a minor plotline about statutory rape.