As if the title hasn’t already told you, I’m going to do something radical today. I’m going to review a fan fiction work in the same way that I would a published book! I know, it’s so edgy.
Since the internet doesn’t carry tone, I will now clarify that that was a joke. I read a lot of fan fiction, primarily because I lived most of my life in parts of the world where English-language books were not easily obtained and it was simply easier to go online and read a fan fic. That said, I do have standards; I realize that when looking over stories at fanfiction.net I’m mostly wading through sludge of badly written, disengaging stories.
But it’s worth it, because every so often you find a piece of gold among the sludge, like this.
Half the reason I decided to do this is because I read this the same night that I finished Death Comes to Pemberley, and having already decided to review one, decided that I may as well do the other homage as well.
Because, while Death Comes to Pemberley is a published book by a respected author and Sparks Fly, Tires Skid is a work of fan fiction by a faceless “amateur” on a website notorious for housing works by preteens who lack in grammar, spelling, plot, etc., I enjoyed the latter far more than the former.
In fact, I would venture to say that reading books is much the same. Most popular books nowadays are increasingly uninteresting, with underdeveloped characters, cliched plots and overuse of shocking and/or sexy scenes and vocabulary. The only benefit that published novels have over fan fiction is that readers don’t have to worry about cringing every 5 seconds over a misspelled word or sentence structure that disregards grammar entirely.
Which, yes, I realize is grounds for some concern. That is why, before I move on to the review, I will tell you that I caught no spelling or grammatical errors in the reading of this work. I wasn’t exactly looking, but I also am somewhat sensitive to bad writing, so this is not something you need fear from this work.
Now, the story.
Sparks Fly, Tires Skid is, very simply, a retelling of Pride and Prejudice set in the modern day. So yes, similar to the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, except in prose form. And while there were elements similar between the two, for the most part each made their own story independently of the other. But if one were to put all similar points side by side and choose to assume that they were borrowed from one to the other, in terms of publishing timelines, this one came first.
The title is not metaphorical. There is a car accident involved. In fact, this is how the story opens: Lizzy and Will Darcy, having crashed into each other, are arguing over whose fault it is whilst Jane and Charlie Bingley flirt nearby. This is, in fact, the author’s summary:
“Elizabeth and Darcy meet at the scene of a car crash. They do not politely exchange insurance information.”
The author, orchidvines (whom I shall henceforth refer to as Orchid), is incredibly witty in her (or his, technically, but I think she’s a she, so I’ll continue to refer to her as she) prose in general, and is capable of drawing you in with simple dialogue. Some may scoff and say that good dialogue is no skill; I would patently disagree. One of my biggest sorrows with modern literature is the sparsity of good dialogue. This is one of my favorite aspects of Austen: her dialogue is witty, engaging, and funny and touching in turn. Too much time gets spent in many books, I feel, occupying dialogue with “need-to-know” sort of information for the readers, or blatant, meaningless attempts at humor.
Orchid, in blatant defiance of this policy where dialogue should have an explicit, plot-related purpose, keeps readers on their toes with constantly funny and clever exchanges. Furthermore, these exchanges aren’t just limited to conversation between Lizzy and Darcy; Jane and Lizzy also have their moments, as do Charlotte and Lizzy. But when I say the dialogue doesn’t have “an explicit plot-related purpose,” I don’t mean that it’s pointless—not by a long shot. What the dialogue often serves to do is draw out the characters, make them real in the readers’ minds. They show how they think, how they feel, their moods, all without having to go into their minds and explain.
The chemistry between Lizzy and Darcy is astonishing. It’s there, right from the start, even as they make you smile and laugh with their antics and general animosity. And when they realize it for what it is, the world implodes just a little bit. There are ups and downs and facets to their lives not taken from the book that make them feel more realistic as modern characters.
For me, the defining point where I decided that Orchid could do no wrong with this story was Lydia. Lydia is wild, childish, and occasionally irritating. But being elder sister to two lovely younger siblings myself, this felt to me like the most realistic portrayal I have ever seen of Lydia. Oh, I’m not talking of all the trouble she gets herself into, which—as in Austen’s book—is almost unbelievable in its enormity and yet very much Wickham’s fault (as well as Lydia’s own lack of comprehension of the world and its workings). But the way that Lizzy and Lydia interact is, despite everything, loving and sisterly and something I wish we saw more often in Austen adaptations.
I’m not just talking about spin-offs like the P. D. James book I keep on mentioning that patently failed to impress me. I’m also talking about relatively good, direct adaptations, like the BBC mini-series and the films. In nearly every version, as much as I enjoy it, there is something that I feel is missing; and that something is a sense of family that encompasses more people than just Jane and Lizzy, and occasionally Mr. Bennet. The 2005 adaptation, I felt, came closest.
Certainly, one could argue, Austen herself doesn’t write very explicitly about the love between members of the family, except in pairs: Jane and Lizzy, Lizzie and Mr. Bennet, Lydia and Kitty, Lydia and Mrs. Bennet. But the thing is, neither does Orchid, not explicitly. But, as is the case with Austen, you can feel that underneath all this chaos, they are really a family with affection for one another (except, perhaps, for Mrs. Bennet). And while Lydia in this adaptation gains a little more depth than her shallow, silly counterpart (though not to the extent of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries, which are taking the Wickham/Lydia angle down a whole new path), it was a very good choice that helped to give more color to the relationship between Lizzy and Lydia, and allows the reader to be a little more sympathetic towards the girl rather than simply annoyed.
This story is well-planned, well-written, well-executed, and generally everything a Jane Austen adaptation should (in my mind) be. There is wit. There is love. There is laughter, and sorrow too. It makes you laugh, and keeps you engaged throughout the story so that you start reading, blink, and find that it’s 2A.M. and you’ve just read all the way through.
It is a truly wonderful piece that I’m giving 9/10.
Now, here’s where I’d normally put a picture of the cover and a link to amazon to buy it. Because you don’t need to buy this, and there is no picture, I’m instead going to leave you with the first few lines:
In an odd way, life seemed destined to work in pairs. Two peas in a pod. Two sisters. Two best friends. A two-way intersection. Two dented vehicles. Two unfathomably angry opponents. Two complacent, mildly flirtatious sidekicks. Two pigeons observing this whole fiasco from a couple of power cable lines across the street.
“You see these two fists?” Elizabeth Bennet asked sweetly. “These two fists are about to embed themselves in your pretty face if you don’t step off.”
“Are you threatening me?” demanded Will Darcy. He was all suit, strong jaw and icy blue eyes.