I’m trying to do better about reviews. I wrote this up a few weeks ago but haven’t had time to post it until today. I really, really and very surprisingly loved this book. I give it 5 stars on Amazon and Goodreads.
This book has bewitched me. I can put it no other way. I read it a month ago and knew right away I had to do a review but got caught up with things. Still, in the few quiet moments of life I had I would daydream of scenes that were effortlessly etched in my memory. It’s not necessarily the sort of thing I would usually like but, this book has bewitched me. I hadn’t thought I would read it but read an excerpt on a blog and had to know what happened next. It pulled me in immediately with the opening scene and never let me go, I read it in one day.
I will start with what would be my usual turn off. I am really picky on the modern stories I read. I read the original characters and the conflict a certain way and find it doesn’t usually translate well to a modern story and mostly because of sex. Sex is a huuuuge part of this book and yet it absolutely totally works as a modern reinterpretation. I won’t share Darcy’s big number (really, really big) as I think every reader should experience the horror and disgust of that on their own, but it really should have turned me off. Yet, Ms. Kahler makes it work through the circumstances of his rearing which put him on that path and also later when he is with Elizabeth he really has an epiphany about it. Anyway, I found it very believable and somehow this repulsive bit mixed with what you later learn of the man. And that’s what love is isn’t it? You love an imperfect being and you accept their faults.
My next big turn off with moderns and sex is that dear Lord the sex complicates things. I’ve enjoyed quite a few but darn if there’s not usually a situation where Elizabeth freaks over something and winds up pregnant but unable or unwilling to inform Darcy. Or she just has fears of being used etc. And Darcy is, even in a modern world where women have sex without marriage all the time, by far and away the superior in experience. Elizabeth doesn’t come close to Darcy’s number here but Kahler presents it in such a strong way. She is not shameless, she does turn him down for a plain hook up. She has to at least like the guy and trust him and she has several rules. But she prefers no strings attached. She doesn’t do relationships…actually that’s a big deal in her non-sexual relationships too. And I think that’s actually really equal to Darcy’s experience. I find all kinds of parallels with them in Canon, so I love seeing that time and again in this book. But the sex they share is enlightening, powerful and beautiful. It gives them an anchor in their relationship- even when it seems hopeless. Kahler turned something that seems smutty on the surface- Darcy’s previous use of women is truly atrocious- and made it lovely and layered in emotion.
What I absolutely adored the most is that in all other ways this is exactly how I understand the original Darcy and the way he comes to understand his feelings for Elizabeth. Kahler really translates certain sentiments to a modern setting very well. He was trained to have a certain image, to think he needed to maintain a legacy, to do what he must to inherit his fortune etc. and he is so angry with the restrictions this has placed on him- and from a very young age. In the end he realizes his parents would have wanted him to be happy and to have freedom of choices in his life. He also realizes he did have a choice and had spent too long acting a part. At one point he begins to describe himself as a horrible person, but modifies it to having lived a horrible life. I see Canon Darcy as a bit less arrogant than most, but at the end of it all, whether he just hates Hertfordshire society because they’re not rich enough or he hates the Bennets because they behave so horribly, he has been judgmental and made himself superior. He has treated people badly and that is a horrible way to live.
I’m less certain about Elizabeth. I did like her a lot. She was way more obvious in her dislike than Canon Elizabeth was but the social rules are so different now. We do not get her point of view of things in this book, but I’m left to wonder if some of what I have disliked about other moderns is that they do make Elizabeth too wilting for a modern world. This Elizabeth is strong at each turn. Even when she finally cracks and is crying it is STRONG of her to allow someone else in her life. Darcy has to EARN his place. That is a Lizzy I can like and respect.
I love plots that put Darcy and Elizabeth on a path where they must rely on each other and in the process come to learn about each other. Whether it’s kidnapped by highwaymen, a secret marriage aboard a ship, pirates attacking a ship or, now, hiking the Appalachian Trail. Some of this is clearly just personal taste but I also think it’s a good shift from Canon. Darcy and Elizabeth both trust each other with secrets which would be very harmful to their way of life if revealed to others, or at least more difficult. Out on the AT they were forced to be there for each other.
There are some excellent minor characters. The characters of Isabella and John Thorpe just fit in perfectly from their Northanger Abbey selves. Marianne Dashwood and Christopher Brandon are an excellent translation as well. I have always said that I was Marianne as a teenager and grew up to be an Elizabeth so I really like that they were best friends here. They bicker but have their similarities. Extra points go to the brilliant use of contemporary references from the use of Twitter to other plugs like Futurama.
There is a surprising twist that I truly did not see coming but I think it makes perfect sense and I do not think it came from nowhere. This book is longer than most you’ll see but it didn’t feel too long. Each time it seemed like it might be on the verge of just being a very long epilogue it wrapped itself around to a main plot point. Truly, I only have one minor complaint and that is on the final timeline/scene point I think it could have been made to be more about Elizabeth’s professional life and choices as I think most of her concerns had been vanquished long ago. And I believe in a few more reads I will probably find this the best ending after all, just as has been the case with my other favorite. Favorite? Yes, favorite. This is hands down my favorite modern and probably my top 5 favorite JAFF entirely.
Bravo, Ms. Kahler. I hope you give us another one soon, but not too soon as I can tell the time you put into this one really paid off.
6 thoughts on “Review of Boots and Backpacks”
I loved this book too, Rose. Living in the UK, I’d never heard of the AT before, but one thing this book does is make me want to come over to the US to hike some of it. We’ve done our fair share on long distance walking over here, through some amazing scenery in the Yorkshire Dales (where we live) and also in Scotland.
Another thing I like about this book is the intermingling of characters from other Jane Austen works. I don’t think we get enough of that in JAFF. Have you read the short story that KC has posted on Meryton Press about how Marianne and Christopher got together? It’s a little gem.
In addition to that, I think your review is spot on. Much better than anything I could write! Darcy’s revelation of his Big Number (is that an American term or have I led a sheltered life?) is truly horror-inducing and I think I was in shock for a while!
I’ve never hiked the AT. I’ve barely hiked anything. But I do live near it, not the section they were on, so I think that’s really awesome. I’d love to walk in the Yorkshire Dales and Scotland!
I’ll have to look that story up, they were a cute couple!
Um..I’ve heard Big Number in some pop culture references, I’m sure, and it just seems as a convenient way to say “let’s talk about sexual partners” in a two word phrase that avoids the word sex. Between having small kids and living in an area where little old ladies are trained to hear that word over anything else in any conversation within a mile I rely on euphemisms.
Awww, thanks so much, Rose! I saw this on Amazon first and then discovered that you posted in multiple places. How lovely! And thanks Anji for your comment.
Yes, Darcy is pretty terrible in the beginning! Thanks for sticking with it! Actually the Big Number was a lot higher in earlier drafts! I don’t think “Big Number” is a widespread term, although the idea of it has been around in pop culture – like I can remember something similar in the movie Clerks and in the TV show How I Met Your Mother.
Anyway, my challenge was to transform and redeem Darcy over the course of the journey. My plot, such as it was, was mainly about D&E slowly learning about each other, and therefore reflecting on themselves.
Thanks again! Happy Holidays!
I think you did a really good job of showing the transformation, even on Elizabeth’s side when we don’t actually get her point of view and mental thoughts. I love character development and growth!
I’ve beta’d a modern story where the character had times of being more of a playboy. It was difficult to balance the idea of what just seems too much to stomach and what actual math would indicate when you’re giving him a lifestyle of 1-2 new women a week for several years. In that particular story it was also quickly shown that although the man had more partners the woman had had more sexual experiences due to monogamy, so that was a fun change. Just as the situation with Elizabeth in this story was.
I like the idea of what’s good for one is good for the other. And in this case even though Elizabeth had slept with less men, she didn’t really consider their feelings and level of attachment any more than Darcy did. It wasn’t quite the same level of using people for sex, but it was pretty similar. Elizabeth in this story (not just about sex, but on their actual conflict) is less at fault than Darcy but she’s not perfect or a saint and she didn’t set out to reform the rake. I really appreciate the way he came to conclusions about his life.
Well, this must be obvious by now, but I’m pretty liberal-minded about sex. I mean, even casual sex, because I don’t feel that any kind of consensual, non-cheating sex is *inherently* bad, wrong, immoral, or sinful. People shouldn’t be judged by how much sex they’ve had. I hate slut-shaming and prude-shaming equally.
Darcy’s sexual history in B&B has a negative connotation (to me) because he’s doing it out of spite and avoidance. I didn’t necessarily set out to make him a “manwhore,” but given his circumstances and issues with money and women, he had to be either very promiscuous or very monkish. Anything in between wouldn’t make sense because he couldn’t trust women enough to form any kind of relationship.
So then I was faced with how to treat Elizabeth’s sexual history. I didn’t want to make her the inexperienced and “pure” girl who reforms a rake. That would convey a sex-negative message by default, which was never my point. Darcy’s problem (to me) wasn’t that he had sex with lots of women, but that he didn’t take responsibility for his own actions, not only in relationships but in all aspects of his life. This was the major contrast between him and Elizabeth. Her actions and decisions weren’t always right, but at least she owned them.
OK, I should stop now b/c I could ramble on about my precious characters all day! 🙂
Hello! I think you really wrote a beautiful review! You pointed out all the points that I really liked in this book. It was a really wonderful reading that go straight to the top 5!