Review: PRIDE AND PROTEST by Nikki Payne
Updated: Nov 30, 2022
ABOUT THE BOOK:
A woman goes head-to-head with the CEO of a corporation threatening to destroy her neighborhood in this fresh and modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice by debut author Nikki Payne.
Liza B.—the only DJ who gives a jam—wants to take her neighborhood back from the soulless property developer dropping unaffordable condos on every street corner in DC. But her planned protest at a corporate event takes a turn after she mistakes the smoldering-hot CEO for the waitstaff. When they go toe-to-toe, the sparks fly—but her impossible-to-ignore family thwarts her every move. Liza wants Dorsey Fitzgerald out of her hood, but she’ll settle for getting him out of her head.
At first, Dorsey writes off Liza Bennett as more interested in performing outrage than acting on it. As the adopted Filipino son of a wealthy white family, he’s always felt a bit out of place and knows a fraud when he sees one. But when Liza’s protest results in a viral meme, their lives are turned upside down, and Dorsey comes to realize this irresistible revolutionary is the most real woman he’s ever met.
REVIEW by Christina Boyd: Pride and Protest, the latest to join the stacks of popular Jane Austen pastiche, is a fresh, contemporary reimagining of Pride and Prejudice by debut author Nikki Payne. With hundreds of Austen-adjacent novels published a month and all the on-line Jane Austen fanfiction (JAFF) sites, one might wonder: What else can be twisted, massaged, or reinvented that hasn’t already been written? Why Pride and Protest?
Well… Pride and Protest is timely.
Provocative current affairs like gentrification, class, race, and gender issues set the scene in modern-day Washington DC. Handsome Filipino CEO Dorsey Fitzgerald, adopted son of white philanthropists and business moguls, is easily recognizable as Austen’s iteration of Mr. Darcy with his awkward, stoic, and often misunderstood brooding ways, especially regarding his plans to develop modest city neighborhoods like Merryton. Liza B.—the only DJ who gives a jam—is the black equal rights advocate who takes on Fitzgerald’s property development company. Angry sparks fly after their unfortunate first meeting, a cringey moment when Liza wrongly assumes Dorsey is part of the waitstaff at a gala event she is attending only to protest. But when a freak snowstorm hits DC, Dorsey, Liza, her sister Janae, his friend David, and David’s sister Jennifer, are all snowbound together in Fitzgerald’s headquarters, they get a lot cozier than any of them imagined. Physical attraction turns up the heat in a freezing building, but temptation only adds to the muddle. She can’t possibly fall for the unfeeling billionaire, can she? Especially when his moods run hot, then cold.
As always, I enjoyed recognizing Austen’s original lines tweaked and sprinkled throughout:
“He’s bursting at the seams with some cockeyed theory.”
Dorsey’s full attention was rattling Liza.
“Are you the only one allowed cockeyed theories, Liza?”
Jennifer pushed her way back into the conversation, “What did you mean, Dorsey?”
“Two reasons you would ask that. You want to see me do yoga, and if so, you can look at me all you like right here. Or you want to do yoga in front of me—”
“Dorsey!” Jennifer hit his shoulder.
The false outrage made Liza want to hurl. This man needed no extra boost to his self-importance.
"And if you want to show me your downward dog now, I won’t object. Either way, I’m better served sitting right here.”
Like Austen, Liza B. highlights social hypocrisy through her direct and indirect irony on her show.
"So women should be grateful for any man's attention if they are single?" Liza clipped through her teeth.
"If she's single, and she's not all that." Colin laughed.
"Can you believe this gem's all snatched up, ladies? Mediocre single women missed our chance to grovel." Liza cut the feed.
The Bennetts' 21st century sensibilities, characteristics, and comedy of manners--or lack thereof--add humor and authenticity to family dynamics. The forbearing and sarcastic Mr. Bennet is transfigured as Gran. Bev is ever the anxious, brash, and often embarrassing mother. Janae is a former beauty queen suffering heartache after losing her baby boy. Maurice tries hard to be an advocate for black empowerment despite his lack of finesse, and the youngest, LaDeya, is an overnight success as a social media influencer. When LaDeya is scammed by WIC…well, I’ll not spoil it for you.
Jane Austen’s novels remain popular centuries after her death because readers relate to her timeless stories and characters. Pride and Protest has been billed "Austen with color.” As a half-Filipino woman, I have been all anticipation to see how Payne would color Austen’s masterpiece. Engaging dialog, likable characters and smart storylines had me turning pages into the middle of the night. Readers will adore Dorsey, revere Liza, and cheer for the family. But for me, this retelling is especially poignant from the thousands of other Jane Austen fanfiction that I’ve read because of the details that seemed personal to my life experience: the Filipino male character, past pageant queen, the Peace Corps, the Slovenia and Maine connections, Philadelphia, Washington DC… I daresay, regardless of race, creed, or sex, readers will connect to this astute, sexy Austen reimagining like never before. Payne delivers an edgy, titillating, and politically diverting adaptation that follows canon, keeping characters and story arc comfortably familiar. Pride and Protest would translate easily to film.
In the introduction of the multi-author anthology The Darcy Monologues, I wrote,
“For over two hundred years, women have loved Jane Austen’s brooding and enigmatic hero, Mr. Darcy. Handsome rich strong cerebral. You might find Fitzwilliam Darcy in disguise, including his imperfections, as numerous literary paragons and film icons such as Gilbert Blythe, John Thornton, Gabriel Emerson, Edward Cullen, Lloyd Dobler, Jake Ryan, Richard Blaine, Mr. Big…”
After reading Pride and Protest, I’m amending my list to include Payne’s Filipino romantic hero, Dorsey Fitzgerald. Swoon worthy, indeed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
By day, Nikki Payne is a curious tech anthropologist asking the right questions to deliver better digital services. By night, she dreams of ways to subvert canon literature. She's a member of Smut U, a premium feminist writing collective, and is a cat lady with no cats.