SUMMERSET ABBEY is the first installment of an ambitious historical romance trilogy centering on the excesses and decline of the peerage in Edwardian-era Britain. In the early 1900s, the separation of classes defined European ideals but was finally reaching a path of permanent decline. While old-fashioned traditions were the norm, Art Noveau, industrialization and basic issues like human rights and women’s suffrage were being brought to the forefront --- all subjects that appear in the background of this novel. This is a light read with historical credibility and excellent reader interest from the romances.
"This is essentially a Cinderella story with a sound historical focus, detailing an evolving culture in the midst of concurrent romances.... The appeal for future installments is good, making this a series many will buy and recommend to friends."
We are introduced to three charming young ladies with spark: Prudence Tate, Victoria Buxton and Rowena Buxton. Victoria and Rowena were born daughters of an aristocrat; Prudence descends from the working class. These women are all equally beautiful, appealing and independent, and none have fallen in love yet. They have been raised as a trio; Prudence had been fortunate enough as a girl to find a protector with “dangerously liberal convictions.” She has been treated as an equal by her protector and was entitled to the same treatment and privileges as his own daughters. Now young adults, the girls consider themselves sisters until the day Prudence’s protector dies --- a tragic event that leaves them heartbroken and orphaned, placed under the care of the haughty Buxton nobles who believe in nothing if not their own wealth and status.
The girls’ fates rest on shaky ground with their stuffy aunt and uncle as they are told they’ll soon be married off to an “acceptable family.” But for Prudence the situation is urgent -- the Buxtons consider her beneath them and will not take her in. As a temporary solution, Rowena proposes that Prudence take on a position as their ladies’ maid, an offer that appalls each of the girls but that Prudence accepts because she wants to remain with her family. Reeling from the loss and Prudence’s demoted status, the girls move in to Summerset Abbey --- Victoria and Rowena as “ladies of the manor” to enjoy the privileges of queens but none of the empowerment, and Prudence to face a life of permanent servitude while she’s treated abominably.
T. J. Brown’s choice of characters and storyline focuses on idealizing modern values. Equality and fairness are central themes, and the romances do entertain and keep the reader’s full attention. There are many cute couples who interact quite charmingly. Each character seems to have an equally alluring but individual personality, and the dialogue is well done. I would challenge anyone who feels they can guess the outcomes of all the pairings to have it figured out from the start; you’ll be hard-pressed.
This is essentially a Cinderella story with a sound historical focus, detailing an evolving culture in the midst of concurrent romances. The sickening practice of indentured servitude was an unfortunate fact of life in Europe of that age, a situation that is detailed vividly throughout the novel but also places the reader at an interesting time --- smack in the middle of massive societal change as one is allowed to appreciate the better aspects of that culture and the glorious details that entrance for other reasons. Most female readers should enjoy the book, which I would delegate as equally appropriate for young adult and adult audiences as well as any who are interested in historicals. The appeal for future installments is good, making this a series many will buy and recommend to friends.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on January 24, 2013