Lucas, by Elna Holst, is a delightful re-imagining of Jane Austen's world, following the story of Charlotte Collins, Elizabeth Bennet's childhood friend. While Charlotte writes to the Lizzy we all know and love, this story is told in a second, secret set of correspondence Charlotte can never send to her friend, detailing her affection for women and her unexpected fall into infatuation and love--not with her husband, the rector of Rosings Park in Kent, but her physician's cousin, the delightfully unorthodox Miss Ailsa Reid. Ms. Holst paints a wonderful historic picture from the gardens and simplicity of Kent to the finery and excitement of a winter vacation Bath. Despite the fun and adrenaline of new, forbidden love, the more serious aspects of womanhood in Regency England were dealt with honestly and with respect.
Throughout the tale, Charlotte becomes increasingly akin to her imagined penpal, torn into two versions of herself: one, the demure, sensible Mrs Collins, rector's wife, the other swooning, secretive Charly Lucas, lover to the beguiling Ailsa. While the epistolary nature of the book made for a bit less world-building and richness than I would have liked, everything I love about Austen's world is here, from the longing and drama, to the exquisite clothes and races across the countryside for someone's honor and safety. I was hooked as Charlotte had to choose between her family's reputation and her own happiness. 4 out of 5 stars!