The basics: When their father dies, Rowena and Victoria Buxton are forced to leave their home and go live with their aunt and uncle. It's a house the girls know well, as they've visited each year. In order to bring Prudence, the daughter of their now deceased governess, whom they think of as a sister, the girls have no choice but to have Prudence come as their lady's maid.
My thoughts: Summerset Abbey ties in so well with the Downton Abbey craze (how long until season four makes its way to the U.S.?) It's story isn't as complex, but it is wonderfully entertaining. I like to think of the Edwardian era as a kind of coming of age for England (and much of the world.) To see these young women entering adulthood at such a time of changing priorities is quite fascinating. By going from a more liberal worldview of their father, who treated Prudence as a daughter and encourage all three girls to rally for women's vote, to the more traditional and conservative world of their uncle is a challenge for all three girls.
While all three girls share narration, I was most drawn to Prudence's story (I imagine Rowena and Victoria will each take a turn with more of a starring role in the trilogy's remaining tow books.) All three girls are caught between two worlds, but Prudence doesn't have a true role in either the upstairs or downstairs life. Further complicating the matter is her quest to learn more about her mother and thus herself.
Favorite passage: "Most people don't want to be alone with their thoughts," he finally said. "Maybe they have boring thoughts."
The verdict: Summerset Abbey is an entertaining glimpse into Edwardian England and a delightful tale of friendship in a changing time. Brown strikes just the right note of tying up some storylines while leaving others open for the next two installments of this trilogy. What keeps this book from feeling too much of a Downton clone are the characters. Summerset Abbey doesn't necessarily break the mold, but well-developed characters set against a fascinating cultural and historical backdrop make this novel delightfully engaging and entertaining. I'm eagerly awaiting the second book in the series, which is due in March.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Length: 322 pages
Publication date: January 15, 2013
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
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