Publisher: Gallery Books
Publication Date: January 15, 2013
Status: First in the Summerset Abbey series. The second book, A Bloom in Winter will be released on March 5, 2013.
Genre: Teen Historical
Other Info: This is T.J. Brown’s debut
Description and link from Goodreads):
1913: In a sprawling manor on the outskirts of London, three young women seek to fulfill their destinies and desires amidst the unspoken rules of society and the distant rumblings of war. . . .
Sir Philip Buxton raised three girls into beautiful and capable young women in a bohemian household that defied Edwardian tradition. Eldest sister Rowena was taught to value people, not wealth or status. But everything she believes will be tested when Sir Philip dies, and the girls must live under their uncle’s guardianship at the vast family estate, Summerset Abbey. Standing up for a beloved family member sequestered to the “underclass” in this privileged new world, and drawn into the Cunning Coterie, an exclusive social circle of aristocratic “rebels,” Rowena must decide where her true passions—and loyalties—lie.
Frail in body but filled with an audacious spirit, Victoria secretly dreams of attending university to become a botanist like her father. But this most unladylike wish is not her only secret—Victoria has stumbled upon a family scandal that, if revealed, has the potential to change lives forever. . . .
Prudence was lovingly brought up alongside Victoria and Rowena, and their bond is as strong as blood. But by birth she is a governess’s daughter, and to the lord of Summerset Abbey, that makes her a commoner who must take her true place in society—as lady’s maid to her beloved “sisters.” But Pru doesn’t belong in the downstairs world of the household staff any more than she belongs upstairs with the Buxton girls. And when a young lord catches her eye, she begins to wonder if she’ll ever truly carve out a place for herself at Summerset Abbey.
When an author begins with a British setting, then adds in an abbey and a young lord, they’ve pretty much guaranteed an audience in me. And, with the success of Downton Abbey, I’ve been in luck. Publishers are on the hunt for read-alikes, and YA imprints are no exception. When I began dipping my toes back in the NetGalley pond, there were two titles I requested right away: Cinders and Sapphires and Summerset Abbey. And when I got declined for Cinders and Sapphires (I thought, as an educator, I might have a chance) and accepted for Summerset Abbey, my desire to read the latter went through the roof.
Things started off okay. I knew immediately that Summerset wasn’t going to be the best historical I’d ever read, but I enjoyed the introduction to the world and the characters. Plus, the aforementioned young lord shows up pretty fast. While it didn’t pass my stringent Rules of Titles tests (is the Countess of Edgmont called Lady Edgmont [right] or Lady Charlotte [wrong]?), Summerset Abbey was entertaining enough to keep me going. For a while, anyway.
Where the book fails isn’t in its representation of the era in which it is set. It fails in its characters. There are three main ones, and the story alternates between those mentioned in the description: Rowena, Victoria and Prudence. Each sister has a story, complete with a potential love interest–fortunately. Unfortunately, all of the characters are lame. There really isn’t a better descriptive word.
Rowena manages to arrange for Prudence to come to Summerset Abbey despite her uncle’s objections, but then proceeds to ignore her and treat her like a servant. And when she feels bad about doing so? She only acts more stuck-up. Victoria, the youngest of the three, is all talk and no action. She badgers Rowena for forcing Prudence to become a lady’s maid and then forgets about her for pages at a time, and doesn’t do anything to actually help Prudence. Unless you count her last, ridiculously misguided attempt. And Prudence complains about her situation as a lady’s maid–an outsider among the servants and and outsider among the inhabitants of Summerset–but doesn’t do anything about it, either. Ultimately, she makes a TSTL decision that makes no sense at all.
Here’s what really gets me: Prudence’s situation (lady’s maid job aside) is actually a really compelling one, and perfectly suited to the time period. The 1900′s–especially in England–were a time when old traditions were starting to lose ground. The master-servant relationship was being tested and redefined. There were more opportunities for men, but more importantly–women. It makes me weep to see such juicy meat for a story go to such waste.
I think Summerset Abbey will definitely find an audience. Fans of the Luxe Series by Anna Godberson will probably enjoy it. The more discerning reader, however, will need to keep looking.
Check out Tracy Deebs’ guest post and the Doomed giveaway!
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