2013 · 4 stars · fiction

review; summerset abbey

Summerset Abbey (Summerset Abbey #1)
Author: T. J. Brown
Pub. Date: January 15, 2013
Source: Publisher (Thank you, Gallery Books!!)
Summary: Rowena and Victoria, daughters to the third son of the Earl of Summerset, have always treated their housekeeper’s daughter, Prudence, like a sister. But when their father dies and they move in with their uncle’s family in a much stricter household, Prudence is relegated to the downstairs maids’ quarters, much to the girls’ shock and dismay. The impending war offers each girl hope for a more modern future, but the ever-present specter of class expectations makes it difficult for Prudence to maintain a foot in both worlds.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Adult
Rating: star-half-64

Prudence craned her neck and her heart sank. Slender Italianate spires seemed to reach for the sky, rising from an imposing structure so massive it took up more than a London city block. The grounds around it were so immaculate and severe that Prudence couldn’t imagine a leaf or stone daring to shift out of place. This was no comfortable home where little girls played hide-and-seek in cozy alcoves, or giggled while they devoured savory meat pies. Poets and artists wouldn’t dare argue over their ale while lounging in front of the fire in this household. At this castle, for it was far more of a castle than a manor, everyone knew his place and stuck to it.

Although her mother was but a maid-turned-governess, Prudence Tate never felt different from the two Buxton girls, Rowena and Victoria. Sir Phillip treated the girls equally and raised them to be independent, forward-thinking women. However, with Sir Phillip’s death, the girls are sent to live with their relatives at Summerset Abbey and their world is suddenly turned upside-down. Now, instead of living as sisters, Prudence is sent to stay in the servants’ quarters and unable to find her place among either class.

Downton Abbey is massive right now and that should come as a surprise to no one. The sudden surge of interest in this time period has led to countless novels and I’m pleased to say Summerset Abbey surpassed my expectations.

The servants’ stairway had inconspicuous doors that opened up on each floor, so they could move about the house without their presence being known. It seemed odd to Prudence to have a small army of silent, invisible workers keeping the house running in tip-top shape and not even be aware of them.

Summerset Abbey takes place in 1911 on the cusp of the Suffragette movement and WWI. Rowena, Prudence, and Victoria consider themselves suffragettes and are far more interested in learning skills (Victoria had been taking typing lessons, for example) with which to earn their own money and, particularly in Victoria’s case, shun all plans of even getting married.

When their father dies, Uncle Conrad and Aunt Charlotte descend upon Rowena and Victoria and whisk them away to Summerset Abbey. With Rowena being the oldest, Conrad discusses the business side of things: their house didn’t belong to Sir Phillip, but instead was the property of the family’s estate; he has plans to sell the house; the girls will stay with the family until they’re married. Victoria, however, believes they’re merely visiting for the winter season. In the beginning she’s fine with this – as a child she loved stayed at the manor for the summer – but once she discovers how her beloved Pru is treated, she takes it upon herself to make things right.

“Our sainted mother could flirt with our dearly departed King, outwit Confucius, and make the pope cry, all before breakfast. A most formidable woman.”

Summerset Abbey is told through the eyes of all three girls and I’m a sucker for a good multi-narrative. I especially loved Prudence’s POV. She knew from the start that she wasn’t as highbrow as her sisters, but Sir Phillip never gave it a second thought. Once she reaches the abbey, however, she realizes just how different she truly is. In an attempt to keep all three girls together, Rowena pleads for Prudence to be kept on as their maid. Conrad agrees and Prudence is told about her new position when they arrive at the manor and she’s refused entrance through the front door. Instead, she has to go through the servants’ door and it’s a downward spiral from there.

The servants view her speech, dress, and manners as too ‘above’ them and hate her for it. Conrad, Charlotte, and their class see Prudence as the daughter of a maid and treat her as such.

It broke my heart to see what Prudence went through and she put up with everything because she knew it was the only way to stay with Rowena and Victoria.

Victoria is the youngest at 18 and is still seen as a child due to her frailty and health issues. Despite her constant asthma attacks, she’s prepared to fight for Prudence and when she happens upon an old family photo, Victoria becomes determined to find out just how Prudence is and who her mysterious father was.

Rowena, Rowena, Rowena.. In the beginning I enjoyed her. As time went on and her true colors showed, my fondness for her lessened and by the time the book was over, I was appalled and hurt by her actions.

He reminded her of a man in a fairy tale – not the hero who won the princess, but the sidekick who made it all possible.

There is a massive cast of characters in Summerset Abbey and I’m so glad there are two more books. Hopefully the secondary characters will get their chance to shine. The boys were so very lovely – Sebastian and Andrew being my favorite. I’m eager to see more of everyone in the next book, especially with the coming war.

Lady Summerset could hire extra servants from town to serve dinner, but no one could take the places of those three. In fact, Lady Summerset was certain that if Cairns, Mrs. Harper, and Hortense had been in charge of the Boer War, it would ave come to a much speedier conclusion.

While I saw the plot twist from the beginning, I adored the ride. My only disappointment was with the lack of war, oddly enough. In every summary I’ve read, I got the sense that WWI was a key plot. Perhaps in the following books?? I hope so!

My only other gripe was the ending and who Prudence ended up with. I so did not expect that! No lies: my jaw actually dropped and I sat there staring wide-eyed and open-mouthed at the page.

If you’re looking for a fun, quick read to get you through the week until the next Downton Abbey episode, or if you’re looking for a wonderful new historical fiction series, Summerset Abbey is the book for you. I loved it and absolutely cannot wait for more!

    Summerset Abbey series

  • Summerset Abbey
  • A Bloom in Winter (March, 2013)
  • Spring Awakening (August, 2013)
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