A gender-flipped revisiting of Pride and Prejudice translates surprisingly well into the Ice Age—until it doesn’t.
Kol, oldest son of a hunter-gatherer clan, is worrisomely lacking prospective wives, so he rejoices along with his parents and brothers at a visit from a family rich in unmarried girls. Though he admires the clever and capable Mya, she dismisses him with disdainful contempt; the immediate attraction between his brother and Mya’s sister is later repudiated even more rudely. When Lo, the charming daughter of yet another clan, showers Kol with flattering attention, he dismisses hints of her bitter past with Mya’s people…until dark secrets erupt into shattering treachery. Debut author Eshbaugh portrays Neolithic culture with grace and authenticity, although the easy acceptance of same-sex relationships and absence of gender roles is anthropologically improbable. In particular, the life-and-death emphasis on civility in a subsistence economy allows for a convincing adaptation of Austen’s novel of manners. But the similarities are subtle, and readers unfamiliar with the original would not feel lost, especially since the plot diverges sharply in the latter half, descending into a tragedy of madness, vengeance, and violence. Unfortunately, the awkward choice to cast the story as recounted by Kol to “you” (Mya) robs even the most dramatic events of suspense.
Narrative artifice aside, this is an involving story solidly told, doing credit to its inspiration and sources. (Historical fiction. 12-18)