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A Great Historical Fiction Read (especially for Downton fans!)
on January 24, 2013
I'm such a huge fan of the BBC/PBS series Downton Abbey, so I was excited to give Summerset Abbey a read--it seemed right up my alley. And, I'm happy to report, it did not disappoint! This novel, the first in a trilogy, centers around three "sisters," two of whom (Victoria and Rowena) occupy the "upstairs" world of a sprawling estate that seems similar in many ways to Downton Abbey, and one (Prudence) who is relegated to the "downstairs" world of the estate to serve as a lady's maid, despite having been raised alongside her "sisters" as their equal. It's a great set-up that allows for fascinating dynamics among all three leading ladies, as guilt, pride, jealousy, pity, disillusionment, and ultimately a sense of injustice all come into play. The romantic storylines are also well-developed, but I personally found the relationships among the three women to be the most fun and interesting to watch unravel.
This novel is also incredibly rich in historical detail. The dialogue feels authentic, and the author does a fantastic job of creating a strong sense of time and place--I definitely felt transported to Summerset Abbey as the author described the luxurious décor, sprawling layout, and ornamental embellishments that define the estate... not to mention the lavish meals and social functions (I especially loved the ball scene).
One of the main elements of this novel that sets it apart from Downton Abbey is that the upstairs/downstairs dynamic that defines the relationships among the characters is actually called into question, especially by Victoria. These women weren't born and raised with such rigid class divisions as those enforced at Summerset Abbey (they move to the estate in the opening chapter of the novel), so it's interesting to see their reactions to the code of conduct at the estate. Further, Prudence has a foot in both worlds, so it's interesting to see her reaction to both the separation and the interplay between the upstairs and downstairs worlds of Summerset.
Overall, a purely enjoyable historical fiction read, especially for fans of Downton Abbey! I highly recommend this novel, and I cannot wait for the sequel!