I started this Colleen McCullough novel this afternoon and, as expected, am feeling ambiguous about it.
On the one hand, McCullough is a good storyteller and I find I'm being sucked into the story wondering how everything is going to work out. On the other hand, this is fanfic and she's breaking the canon into little tiny bits without much respect for the Austen characters she's stealing.
First impressions? I wonder whether McCullough didn't write a Regency Romance and then decide to jump on the Austen bandwagon and changed all the names to those from P&P. I don't really wonder that, but I think most Janeites would like the story better if it were straight Regency Romance and not P&P fanfic--messing with Darcy and Lizzy is a dangerous game.
I do think the plot is promising, the characterization good (just not recognizable as the P&P characters I grew up with), and the level of detail okay. Granted, I just finished Voyager by Diana Gabaldon--I'm rereading the lot in anticipation of the final book in the series coming out this year--and McCullough is just not in the same league as Gabaldon when it comes to details.
It's telling that Mary is turning out to be another Elizabeth--in looks, in spirit, in attractiveness. She's a bit modern, though, to be really believable as a 37-year old woman in 1830. I've been reading lots of fiction about women in 1830-1850, and McCullogh's Mary is strictly a 20th century gal. Plus, it's hard to believe that Mary from P&P could blossom into Elizabeth after 17 years of nursing her mother while buried in a country estate with a big library just because her skin cleared up and she got some dental work done.
McCullough clearly appreciates the Lizzy of P&P since her story is that Mary is really Elizabeth having another chance to pick Mr. Right.
Back to being fair and giving this book a fighting chance...Charlie Darcy promises to be a gem of a character--the sensitive but all-man type--and his relationship to Aunt Mary is intriguing, at least at this point. We'll see what McCullough does with that. Having read half of her Rome series, this relationship could get pretty twisted pretty fast.