Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Summerset Abbey


Author: T.J. Brown
Type: E-book (Advanced Reading Copy)
Source: NetGalley
Genre: Historical Fiction (England)
Series: First book in the Summerset Abbey trilogy
Publisher: Gallery Books
First Published: January 15, 2013
First Line: "Prudence Tate paused before the arched doorway to allow Victoria time to regain her composure."

Synopsis1913: Rowena and Victoria Buxton are sisters who live with their widowed father, Phillip Buxton, as part of the aristocracy.  Phillip Buxton, was a very unconventional man for his time.  Not only did he not have any qualms with raising his two daughters alongside their governess' daughter, Prudence, but against tradition, he encouraged his daughters to be free thinkers and even treated Prudence as one of his own giving the young girl every privilege awarded his own daughters.  When Phillip dies, the girls are sent to live under their uncle's guardianship at his massive home, Summerset Abbey -- a sprawling estate on the outskirts of London.

Unfortunately the girls' uncle and aunt do not think of Prudence as family and are quite open in letting the girls know where they think Prudence ranks in the hierarchy of their household.  In order for Prudence to be allowed to live at the Abbey, she is required to assume the position of lady's maid to her 'sisters' in order to keep up appearances in the extended family and society.  Soon the sisters' close bond begins to shift as Prudence, raised as a lady, struggles with her new role and ultimately feels stuck between upper and lower society.

Rowena and Victoria, after being treated by their father with many unaccustomed freedoms, also struggle within the new confines set on them by their aunt, uncle and society at large.  When Victoria, the physically weak yet overly curious sister, discovers a family secret she's unsure of what to do because disclosing the scandal could change all of their lives forever.

My Thoughts: Before I begin my review of this book I must admit that I'm a big Downton Abbey fan.  I'm talking HUGE!  I do so love me some time with Dame Maggie and her lot. {Note: The fact that this Harry Potter fan doesn't view Dame Maggie as Professor McGonagall is a true testament to her acting chops.  She is wicked awesome. Period.  The end.}  So, when I found this book on NetGalley I honestly couldn't pass up the chance to read a book that is set in the same era and similar setting as my beloved Downton.   

It should come as no surprise that one of the things that I adored about this book is the setting.  Set in the early 1900's, this book deals with a time and a people who lived through great change.  Not only was the usefulness of the aristocracy coming into question and the differences between the classes were becoming blurred but women were starting to speak up for themselves and see themselves as more than an extension of their husbands and parents.  Girl power was only in its infancy at this time therefore don't expect any burning corsets and the like.  But, it was powerful and inspiring nonetheless. 

That isn't to say that just because Victoria and Rowena were treated as gentry that they had an easy time growing up in this era.  Far from it, actually.  This book showed the limitations set on woman (and even some men) in that time due to their status.  A lot was expected of the young gentry and they were really given little choice as to where their lives would lead.  Whether that was about their education, whom they would marry or even whom they could socialize with.  This book pulls off the glamourous blinders of the early 1900's.

While I did enjoy the ambiance of the book, unfortunately I found the mystery lacking and predictable.  With the pure malice that Lady Charlotte (Victoria and Rowena's aunt) had towards poor Prudence I was really hoping for some huge, family destroying secret but unfortunately I quickly guessed the scandal.  It was a little bit of a letdown to know that I had guessed right.  I would have loved some sort of major 'didn't see that coming!' twist at the end.   Also, while the main characters were likeable I wish I would have gotten to know the three girls a little better (although that may happen in the future books in the trilogy).

All in all, I liked this book.  It describes the era so well that I could easily imagine what life was like for the rich living in a place like Summerset.  The clothing, backdrop and even small town life were wonderfully described.  And while the ending could be viewed as a little abrupt, readers can look forward to the other two books in this trilogy being released in 2013.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Gallery Books and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary e-book in exchange for my honest review.

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