One house, two worlds…
Rose Cliffe has never met a young lady like her new mistress. Clever, rich, and beautiful, Ada Averley treats Rose as an equal. And Rose could use a friend. Especially now that she, at barely sixteen, has risen to the position of ladies’ maid. Rose knows she should be grateful to have a place at a house like Somerton. Still, she can’t help but wonder what her life might have been had she been born a lady, like Ada.
For the first time in a decade, the Averleys have returned to Somerton, their majestic ancestral estate. But terrible scandal has followed Ada’s beloved father all the way from India. Now Ada finds herself torn between her own happiness and her family’s honor. Only she has the power to restore the Averley name—but it would mean giving up her one true love . . . someone she could never persuade her father to accept.
Sumptuous and enticing, the first novel in the At Somerton series introduces two worlds, utterly different yet entangled, where ruthless ambition, forbidden attraction, and unspoken dreams are hidden behind dutiful smiles and glittering jewels. All those secrets are waiting . . . at Somerton.
As a fan of well done historicals, I eagerly dove into Cinders & Sapphires. I was expecting drama and scandal, mostly revolving around the two characters mentioned in the summary, Rose and Ada. And we definitely get that, in spades. But I wasn’t expecting all the other stories going on in this book. Pretty much every character mentioned, from Ada’s family members, to her father’s new wife and her children, to the household staff, have some sort of point of view moment in this book. While overall I did enjoy the book, I couldn’t help coming away feeling like there was just too much going on in this single volume.
It’s difficult to even know where to start with my review of this story. Ada is our main character; she’s spent the past ten years in India, is a very bookish sort, and desperately wants to attend Oxford, which is not really the done thing. Throw in her unexpected feelings for Ravi, a young Indian man she meets on the boat back to England who is also attending Oxford, and things get very complicated, very quickly, and that’s just with one storyline. You then have Rose, who has just been promoted to ladies’ maid. She has a gift for music, and has spent the past ten years working at Somerton while Ada and her family has been away. The story would have been perfect if we’d just focused on these two girls and their lives, but when you add in the drama with Sebastian and Oliver, Georgiana’s crush on her new stepbrother, Michael (and Michael’s crush on the new nursemaid, Priya), and the bad feelings and bitterness of some of the household staff toward Rose’s new position, and this book began bordering on confusing. I can’t help but feel that some of these storylines were added just to create the scandal and drama promised in the summary; they really didn’t add anything to the story, and it almost felt like the author was inserting tried and true ways to create problems for the characters.
Nonetheless, this book had a very easy flow to it. It read at a pretty fast clip – I would have been done much sooner if I’d just been able to squeeze in more reading time – and it definitely keeps the reader engaged. I definitely felt for both Ada and Rose, who both had their worlds turned upside down in different ways. Charlotte, Ada’s new stepsister, however, is a mean and spiteful character, as is Stella. Their actions and emotions left a bad taste in my mouth, and I really could have done without reading from their points of view. I also think it perhaps would have added a more mysterious atmosphere to the book if we hadn’t known what they knew and thought; now it’s just a matter of how they’ll use the knowledge to further upset things. In fact, Charlotte’s final thoughts made me think of a quote by Gandalf in The Return of the King: “Sauron’s wrath will be terrible, his retribution swift.” It definitely bodes ill for Ada!
While I couldn’t help but feel like Cinders & Sapphires perhaps tries to do too much with too many people, overall I very much enjoyed Ms. Rasheed’s style of writing and the two main characters she’s created. If you enjoy scandalous historical novels that focus on both the gentry and working class, then do check this one out; I’m certainly intrigued enough to read the next book in the series!
An e-galley was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.