A Certain Appeal is a rompy and raunchy retelling of Pride & Prejudice—with a burlesque twist. The Jane Austen inspiration is clear, but debut novelist Vanessa King excels at infusing her own fresh voice and sparkling ideas into this contemporary romance.
Liz Bennet had dreams of becoming an interior designer, but her career in Los Angeles crashed and burned before it really even got off the ground. Looking for a new start, she heads to New York City and quickly falls into a routine with Jane—in this retelling a Black, gay man who is Liz’s best friend and roommate. By day, Liz works as an executive assistant. But at night, she’s at the Meryton, a burlesque club in Manhattan where Jane is employed as a singer. Liz is a “stage kitten,” tasked with picking up after the performers and collecting their discarded bits of costuming.
Stuffy, buttoned-up wealth manager Will Darcy certainly isn’t prepared to attend a show at the Meryton but goes along with his friend Charles, who’s interested in investing in the club. He’s quite taken aback by Liz’s flirtatious nature, and when Liz overhears Darcy describe her as merely “tolerable,” the stage kitten shows her claws. Liz is a confident and saucy heroine, always ready with a sly innuendo or a sharp, witty remark. It’s a torturous delight watching her unravel the starchy Darcy.
Despite that disastrous first impression, the pair keep crossing paths thanks to Jane and Charles’ whirlwind romance, graduating from acquaintances to confidants to something much more. It’s a slow burn that keeps its momentum, even amid all the fun of King’s detailed, luxe descriptions of buzzing nightlife, sexy show performances and extravagant costumes.
There is some additional conflict as Darcy and Liz explore their romantic connection: The Meryton is at risk of closing, and rumors swirl around Darcy’s past. But these factors don’t take much focus away from the romance, giving the large cast of side characters time to flourish. (Seriously, who wouldn’t want to see more of aerialists named Ginn and Tonic?)
Fans of the source material will have an immeasurable amount of fun identifying all the Easter eggs within, from recognizable characters to dialogue that harkens back to the original text. King captures the magical feeling of seeing New York City awash in lights, and the electric hum of a rapt crowd during a live performance. There is something both cozy and thrilling about the Meryton and its found family of performers, and readers will be sad to leave them.
A Certain Appeal is incredibly charming, and it knows it. The only big questions left are what King will write next and when can we read it?