Fiction Reviews

The Scandalous Confessions of Lydia Bennett, Witch

(2023) Melinda Taub, Jo Fletcher Books, £16.99, hrdbk, 393pp, ISBN 978-1-529-42624-3


“Some facts are well known: Mrs. Bennet suffers from her nerves; Mr. Bennet suffers from Mrs. Bennet, and all five daughters suffer from an estate that is entailed only to male heirs.

But Lydia also suffers from entirely different concerns: her best-loved sister Kitty is really a barn cat, and Wickham is every bit as wicked as the world believes him to be, but what else would you expect from a demon? And if you think Mr. Darcy was uptight about dancing etiquette, wait till you see how he reacts to witchcraft. Most of all, Lydia has yet to learn that when you're a witch, promises have power…”

Melinda Taub comes clean at the end of her novel in an “Author’s Note – What’s Real, What’s Mine and What’s Jane’s” telling us that she drew on local British legends about dragons, hillside carvings, grottos and magic as inspiration for some of the plot and places used in her novel. Obviously a lot of the story is based on characters and events that featured in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice but Taub has also borrowed Miss Lambe a mixed-race heiress who appear in Austen’s unfinished novel Sandition to play a major part here.

Given that Austen’s original novel was published over 200 hundred years ago and is much-loved, it has been the springboard for other writers to be inspired to write prequels, sequels, or stories involving some of the other Bennet sisters. Probably three of the best known of these spin-off books are Helen Fielding’s modern Bridget Jones’ Diary, P. D. James’ Death Comes to Pemberley, and Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice With Zombies.

What we get here is Lydia Bennet’s take on proceedings but they are not as straightforward as they seem because Lydia is a witch, the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter. Seventh daughter, I hear you ask, but I thought they were only five? Well, sadly, some of Lydia’s older sisters died not long after childbirth, but she really was daughter number seven, and an apprentice witch to her aunt, Mrs. Phillips. She also has a familiar, a big orange barn cat called Kitty, but wasn’t Kitty one of the Bennet sister? Don’t worry all will be revealed.

While the plot is enlivened by magic, and covens and witchcraft, even dragons and magical jewels, it is a bit slow, but Lydia is true to her nature, by being a trouble magnet and running up a magical debt to Lord Wormenheart, who is a dragon demon, and father to another demon, one George Wickham. Uh, oh. In order to repay her debt, Lydia has to venture to Brighton to find the Jewel of Propriety and enlists the aid of a couple of witches and is helped, and occasionally hindered by Wickham.

There is also a subplot involving Darcy’s sister, Georgiana, who is under a spell, meanwhile the original events of Pride and Prejudice are all going on in the background. Fans of the original novel will enjoy this fantastic take on the story, however, it does jump around to different timelines in telling the story, and it isn’t helped by the last thirty pages or so being told through a series of letters from one major character to another, which really does slow things down considerably. Apart from the odd bit of horse-riding and dancing, the original novel was far from being action-packed. Taub’s novel also suffers from that. There is romance, intrigue, family secrets, shocking revelations, and given the fantastical elements there is added danger, but given that Lydia is telling the tale, any real jeopardy is taken out of the equation, but for all that, fans of the original novel (which include several well-known fantasy writers who provide quotes on the back and inner covers) will love this.

Ian Hunter


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