(Original review from [...])
From Jack Caldwell, the author who brought us Pemberley Ranch, comes a 3-alarm war-time romance: The Three Colonels, Jane Austen's Fighting Men. An amalgamation of two separate novels is often labeled a "mish-mash" but Mr. Caldwell's unique melding of the principals from Pride and Prejudice with those from Sense and Sensibility deserves a much classier description.
Two of the three military heroes emerge straight from Jane Austen: Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam and Colonel Christopher Brandon. The third, Colonel Sir John Buford, has been conjured up from the author's fertile imagination. One is married; (Brandon) one gets married; (Buford) One wants marriage. (Fitzwilliam)
Colonel Brandon is enjoying domestic tranquility with his beloved Marianne and the two are doting on their newly-arrived infant daughter, Joy. Following an uninvited and intrusive encounter with John Willoughby, she weighs the merits of her husband against her former lover. ".....Colonel Brandon, however, said little but did much....//......His deeds spoke volumes. He was the true romantic...."
Colonel Sir John Buford is a handsome war hero, multi-talented, and a notorious rake. As he reforms his philandering ways, he falls in love with none other than Caroline Bingley. Miss Bingley is also ridding herself of her prickly reputation as a haughty and prideful social climber. Initial suspicions of each other's marriage motives dissolve away as they're lovingly mentored by the role models in their families and friends. "....He was aware of Miss Bingley's reputation, but her actions showed a desire for improvement, and Colonel Buford wondered if they might be fellow souls, striving for redemption...."
The author's account of Colonel Fitzwilliam's escapades at Rosings are brilliant and the high point of the book for me. The colonel's own romance is just too wonderful for me to want to reveal anything of it here. Initially he is dispatched to Rosings by his father, Lord Hugh Fitzwilliam, (the rightful owner of the estate) to audit Rosings which has been mismanaged by Lady Catherine. The grand lady's turf war and her explosive dialogues with Fitzwilliam and virtually everyone else are Mr. Caldwell at his best. During this time, Mrs. Jenkinson, Anne DeBourgh's companion, stumbles upon the source of Anne's poor health and the unexpected details are wildly funny. To my delight, a maturing Anne acquires some steel against the controlling machinations of her overbearing Mother: ".....Silence, Mother! Your schemes are not to be borne! Let us have a right understanding between us, madam. I will NEVER go to Bath with you. The day Mrs. Jenkinson leaves this house is the day I do. You have a choice before you - suffer my companion or lose both of us...."
By the time I was half-way though the novel, I was so thoroughly in love with the colonels, their ladies, and the endearing camaraderie amongst them all, I wished it never to stop. However, their tranquility doesn't last long as the dreaded news of Napoleon's escape from Elba and his massing of another army galvanizes the officers into action and strikes terror into the women. The author's helpful dramatis personae includes a list of actual historical figures who are skillfully interwoven with the fictional characters into the spectacle of Waterloo, one of history's pivotal battles. The slaughter of men and livestock was almost incalculable and it was into this horrifying inferno that the heroic three colonels descended as their women waited in England for news....any news of their whereabouts at the front.
One of the techniques I appreciated was the author's use of place name markers which he introduces in italics, to signify sudden changes in the location of the story. Because of this, the action, at times, takes on the characteristic of a fast-breaking contemporary news event. Without these markers, I would have been hopelessly lost.
The only drawback worth mentioning was the sexually explicit nature of the honeymoon bedroom scenes of Colonel Buford and Caroline which added little for me and seemed to actually detract from the lofty overall spirit of the story.
The author has possibly presented the most historically accurate account of Waterloo in a work of fiction since Georgette Heyer's An Infamous Army, which is noted in the author's bibliography and does he pay homage to it here? ".....Green troops, green cavalry, green officers - that is what we have here, Colonel! An Infamous Army, what?....." And, I still think Colonel Fitzwilliam's unexpected but glorious romance is worth the price of the book alone. Achingly romantic and breathlessly paced, the story ate me alive with alternating feelings of dread, mirth, tears, and joy....just what a great read is supposed to do.