The Premise: (taken from the back blurb) “Judge Fitzwilliam Darcy is terribly bored — ready to hang up his black robe and return to the life of a country gentleman–until he meets Elizabeth Bennet, a fresh-faced attorney with a hectic schedule and no time for the sexy but haughty judge. Sparks fly as the two match wits and battle their overwhelming attraction”
My Thoughts: OK, so the very first page of The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy worried me a little. He’s with Charles Bingley, who is debating whether to buy a Lamborghini Murcielago, and throws out a comment about selling his McLaren to Ralph Lauren a few years back. The in-your-face over-the-top wealth was semi-eye rolly, but Darcy is supposed to be very wealthy. Thankfully, by page two, when Darcy begins what starts off as a typical day at work as a judge, he started to become less like a fantasy and more like a human being. His wealth, thanks to inheritance, and his interest in American law, thanks to an American mother and a barrister father are established, as is why he is a judge at a young age (and why he’s tired of it). Despite his wealth and power as a judge, I thought Darcy was likable, even funny, at least in his head.
“Still irked by the sudden transfer of Judge Clayton’s calendar, the Honorable F. Darcy entered the courtroom with an annoyed swirl of black robes. Sometimes he imagined himself as Professor Snape when he wore them. Considering how frequently he wished he could zap some people out of existence, it was fitting.”
Pretty soon, Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet, but his toughness as a judge does not make him very likable to her on her first day as a trial lawyer. Since he also slicks down his hair and wears glasses to appear more experienced, Elizabeth mistakes him as older, not thirty-seven. Later, when she overhears him say about her, “Look, she’s not pretty enough to tempt me. Do you have any idea what kind of a headache even the appearance of impropriety could cause?”, she doesn’t focus on his sensible statement, but on his dismissing her as not pretty. Now she really doesn’t like him, but while she nurses her resentment, an oblivious Darcy notes her attractions:
“Having experienced the mortification of being found not tempting, Elizabeth found it very hard to take Judge Darcy seriously. On the contrary, she thought of him as a sort of joke. She showed her indifference to him by refusing to take the bait when he said something offensive — as he did on a daily basis. While professionally she was without fault, she danced on the edge of disrespect with pert glances and cryptic Yes, Judge Darcys. She dubbed him Clark Kent — without the sparkling personality– and made fun of him on every opportunity. The ember of resentment had taken root and burst into a full-fledge flame of defiance.
Oblivious to her true feelings, Darcy quickly concluded that she was the most capable and intelligent attorneys he had the privilege to work with, crafting creative settlements and persuasive briefs. He was always impressed by her dedication when he ran into her at the elevator after hours or on the weekends. She met each of his challenges with spirit and never backed down when he ruled against her; he enjoyed sparring with her. If he found himself looking forward to her cases, it was in a purely intellectual sort of way. It had nothing at all to do with her velvety brown eyes.”
While Darcy and Elizabeth are misunderstanding each other in the courtroom, Elizabeth’s sister Jane begins her residency at Meryton Hospital, and meets the very affable pediatric surgeon, Dr. Charles Bingley. Pretty soon they’re dating, which causes Elizabeth and Darcy to run into each other even more. On one occasion, a Halloween party, Darcy is in disguise as a racecar driver complete with helmet, and makes an impression on Elizabeth who doesn’t know who he is. Of course, he doesn’t reveal himself, but later, in a proposal-type scene with a law related twist, he finds out Elizabeth can’t stand him, and is horrified.
Until they start their relationship, this is a story with a delicious amount of slow burn and great exchanges where their hidden feelings (Darcy’s crush and Elizabeth’s dislike) bubble beneath the surface. I was enjoying the read, but then, things get VERY physical. I was actually surprised by the level of heat in this book because of the amount of slow burn before it. I had expected the story to continue to be demure, or for there to be a sex scene or two, but no, this Elizabeth and Darcy, they are quite sexually compatible. I feel like a prude, but it was a bit much for me, and I think a big part of this was feeling uncomfortable with all the sex and the characters are named Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy. If they were named something else, or if this book wasn’t described as a modern Pride and Prejudice, I’d have felt differently about the sex scenes and their frequency. Maybe it just made me uncomfortably aware of the line between homage and fanfiction.
Of course, the characters don’t change just because they had sex. Elizabeth and Darcy continue to be likable, and I enjoyed the banter between them. However, once their relationship changed, so did the story. After they took that step into intimacy, their problem is that it is wrong for a judge to be involved with a lawyer to appears before him in court. This is where the story is most unlike the original — their feelings in the face of their responsibilities. I thought this was a great moral dilemma that they had to wrestle with and I was interested in how it was played out, at least half the book involves this issue and I wished it wasn’t so drawn out! It felt like they were going around in circles and rehashing the problem for a long time until a decision was finally made. It felt a bit like forced drama.
I would also say this is pretty loosely based on Pride and Prejudice. Darcy’s aloofness and Elizabeth’s initial dislike, followed by a sort of proposal and rejection, while her sister Jane and Bingley fall in love — these are there, but there are so many differences. Bingley doesn’t need Darcy’s permission to do anything, and is a much less codependent friend. Caroline Bingley is Darcy’s friend with benefits. Charlotte Lucus is a lawyer friend of Elizabeth’s, she’s a lesbian, and Bill Collins has a bit part as a habitual offender. Georgina and Darcy are both close, but Wickham is in Georgina’s past and is practically a non-entity in the story. I wouldn’t read this book expecting the same story as that of Pride and Prejudice, because you would be disappointed. I feel like the characters could have been renamed and the Jane Austen association taken away, and this could be perfectly fine if packaged as a contemporary romance.
Overall: The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy is the one I would recommend for fans of the Romance genre, but not for those looking for something that exactly follows the Pride and Prejudice formula. This one falls squarely under the contemporary romance label, but it also contains a lot of sexual situations. The sex surprised me – It’s several months into the story before things get physical, but when they do, they really do! A part of me wished the characters were named something other than Elizabeth and Darcy because of this. I also felt the story could be tighter; I wouldn’t have missed some sex scenes or minded if the moral dilemma of a judge dating a lawyer weren’t so drawn out. Other than that, I enjoyed the way Darcy and Elizabeth were re-imagined as a judge and a lawyer, and the author wrote with authority on the judicial system. I also liked the easy humor in the characters and the great natural dialogue.
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