Thursday, 27 December 2012

Summerset Abbey - T.J. Brown

After all of the somewhat serious books that I had been reading the past little while, I was really looking forward to something a bit lighter. Summerset Abbey looked like a sure thing when I saw it on Netgalley and I immediately downloaded it when I saw I was approved. Nothing like a little Edwardian romance to lighten the mood.

Except it really didn't.

Summerset Abbey is set in 1913, an era that was just on the border of the old world of privilege and the  new world of suffrage. The book follows three young girls: sisters Rowena and Victoria, the daughters of a nobleman and Prudence Tate, the girl brought up with them as a sister but actually the daughter of a governess. Although the girls have enjoyed a life of privilege so far, reality has just slapped them in the face at the beginning of the novel when their father dies.

With the death of their father comes also a loss of independence. They are put in the care of their uncle, a man who has much different views on what is appropriate and inappropriate for women of their stations. The girls must move into Summerset Abbey with their relatives. Prudence, once basically a sister, is turned into the ladies maid of her two best friends. Victoria rails against all of the changes but Rowena, overcome with grief and new responsibility, begins to sink under the pressure.

The novel explores how the three girls deal with the changes to their lives. Each girl is forced to give up something their love and deal with a harsh new reality. It's very gripping narrative.

As I was reading Summerset Abbey, I was really hooked. I just had to keep reading to see when, exactly, something positive was going to happen for Prudence. Prudence was always my favorite character from the get go. She wasn't overly dramatic like Victoria nor was she a bit of a stick in the mud like Rowena. She had the hardest going of it and I just wanted to see things work out for her. As every reader does, I suppose.

The book meanders along, telling different tales without actually uncovering all that much. Tales of their uncle's cruelty are hinted at but not fully explained until later in the novel. What I was most interested in, the true story behind Prudence's mother, was a big driving force of the novel and when it was revealed, I did feel moderately satisfied.

It's what happened after that that annoys me so much. You have this book that is just driving, driving driving towards a finale and then, at the last second, it just drops. The last chapter was a bit of a joke. After all the rooting you've done so far, you feel a bit cheated. Sure, that ending is perhaps more realistic than what I may have wanted to happen but it comes out of nowhere and completely unsettles the reader. I was terrifically disappointed.

While the writing is well done and the characters interesting (even if I did want to smack Rowena a bit), ultimately, it was a bit of a let down. This looks to be a trilogy which is promising. However, I just read a summery on Goodreads of the next book and it doesn't look as if it's going to resolve what the first book ends with. It looks a bit like the privileged girls will get a happy ending and Prudence gets none. True to fact, perhaps, but not to my taste.

Summerset Abbey will be available from Gallery Books in January 2013.

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