The Mistress’s Black Veil by M. K. Baxley begins five years after that fateful day at Hunsford Parsonage when Mr. Darcy proposed to Elizabeth Bennet. The Bennets, now reduced to poverty after the death of Mr. Bennet, are barely surviving, having been thrown into the hedgerow by their cousin, Mr. Collins, at the directive of his noble patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. As the situation becomes more desperate, Elizabeth makes a difficult and irrevocable choice... In the end will she and Fitzwilliam Darcy find their way to their happily ever after? (from the Publisher)
Our story begins with Jane, Elizabeth, and Kitty Bennet struggling to put food on the table following the death of their father. Upon losing her third governess position for failure to offer her services to the master of the home, Elizabeth decides her only option is to take up a position as a courtesan.
Attending the Courtesans’ Ball, Elizabeth assumes the identity of Sophia Molina, Spanish Cyprian. The last person Elizabeth expects to encounter is Mr. Darcy. However, by the end of the ball, Darcy is seeking a contract with Sophia Molina because he is bewitched by her as she reminds him of his lost love. Page by page the reader is drawn in and becomes more curious as to how and when Darcy will find out that his lover is the same lady he loved all those years ago and whom he believes is dead. The way Sophia quotes and refers to conversations Darcy and Elizabeth had is rather entertaining.
When two men from her past threaten to reveal her secret, Elizabeth struggles as she must decide whether staying with Darcy is worth the scandal, as well as Darcy knowing she has deceived him. At the same time, Darcy must overcome his objections and decide if he is willing to forget the trappings of society and take his mistress as his wife.
While I typically enjoy Pride and Prejudice variations, and have little difficulty suspending my disbelief in a novel, there were events in this novel that were difficult to get past. In addition to the deaths of all but a handful of Bennets, Gardiners, and Philipses, another unlikely happening is when Elizabeth refuses to take off her mask and veil for a whole three months, even while engaged in amorous activities and sleeping. I know the author has these events happen to further the plot; however, I found them far-fetched. I also found it difficult to believe that after Elizabeth had quit her three prior jobs because she refused to sleep with the master of the house that she would immediately take up such a position. While she would be offered money and protection, it goes against her previous convictions.
Baxley adds a mystical element by addressing the reader at the beginning and end of each chapter. In that way, the narrator breaks the fourth wall and illustrates how Cupid, Aphrodite and other Greek gods are playing their parts in this story reminding me of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream working his magic to get the right characters to fall in love.
Along with a bit of trickery, the book ends on a high note, and poetic justice for Lady Catherine and Mr. Collins. I enjoy when authors include an epilogue which gives the reader a glimpse of what life is like for the characters after the story ends. Baxley does a wonderful job tying up any loose ends, even for Elizabeth’s cat, Cocoa.