Jane Odiwe writes from the heart. This is evident to anyone who has ever read one of her novels, but particularly so in her newest work, Project Darcy. Published just in time for Christmas, it is surely her gift to Austen fans everywhere.
The story centers on a group of friends who join an archeological expedition at the site of Steventon Rectory. The five girls mirror the Bennet sisters in personality and even name choices, and just as in Pride and Prejudice, Ellie (our heroine) and Jess share a special bond.
The purpose of the dig is to discover the actual layout of the Austen’s home, and it is clear from the writing that Ms. Odiwe is intimately familiar with the Austen haunts mentioned throughout the book, from Steventon to Ashe and Deane, Bath and London. Relationships among the other workers and staff form the backdrop of a fairly straightforward retelling of Pride and Prejudice, cleverly repackaged though, in order to drop twists and turns throughout, and laugh out loud moments at just the right time.
This is, however, a time travel story, as well. Like her previous book, Searching for Captain Wentworth, Ellie has the ability to travel between the 21st century and Regency England. Unlike the other book, however, these time jumps are uncontrolled by temporal items, and are brought on by the proximity of so many Austen locations. In Ellie’s jumps, she literally becomes Jane Austen, creating a story within a story, as she relives many of the poignant memories of Austen’s past, and seeks to shed light on her oh-so-mysterious relationship with Tom Lefroy.
Although the archeological dig takes place in summer, Ellie’s jumps, for the most part, return her to the winter of 1795/96 when we know, from Jane Austen’s own letters, that she met Tom while he was visiting his aunt. The descriptions of Christmas at Steventon and the Manydown ball are delightful, and it is fun to fill in the gaps in what we do know, fleshing out a story of love won and lost. Traces of Austen’s “later” works are visible and it is clear that Ms. Odiwe let her imagination have full reign in giving Jane the romantic past that we all might wish for her. While many scenes are reminiscent of Jon Spence’s Becoming Jane, we are also treated to the history of Jane’s turquoise ring which came to public attention this past year.