Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review: Cinders & Sapphires - Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed
Series: At Somerton #1
Genre: YA, historical fiction, romance
Published on January 22, 2013
Published by Hyperion
Pages: 400
Read From: 5.30.13 - 5.31.13

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.


Cover Blurb: Yes or No? I love the swirls, and how indicative of the story's era and genre the cover is; however, I quite dislike the character impersonators. The middle girl looks nothing like Ada, and the other girl is too old - and shrewd-looking - to be Rose. And who is the guy supposed to be anyway? Not Ravi; he isn't even remotely Indian, and why would Sebastian be on the cover at all? What irritates me more than character impersonators are mystery faces, where the Reader has no idea who the person is supposed to be.

Characters: Ada Averley was easy to connect to, when it came to her love for learning and wanting to attend university. Her attachment to Ravi was less understandable to me, but I'll talk more about that in a minute. Take Lady Sybil from Downton Abbey and put her in Lady Mary's place as the eldest daughter, and you have Ada Averley. And just like Lady Sybil, Ada is quite lovable. Rose Cliffe is equally likable, with her love of music, hardworking spirit, and her loyalty to Ada. And despite Georgianna Averley's flightiness, I did really love her innocence and high spirits. Charlotte Templeton is the perfect conniving stepsister, and her mother is equally horrendous. Probably the character most fun to hate, though, is Stella, Charlotte's ladies' maid. While not as aware of loyalty her station as ladies' maid demands like Miss O'Brien in Downton Abbey, Stella is just as mean and scheming. Then we have Sebastian Templeton, who I did really like (at first), Emily Maddox (whose friendly, intelligent, and opinionated nature was an immediate hit), her brother Lord Finton, and a great deal more characters than there is space to talk about them. Suffice to say, every character has a lot of personality, and I liked them in all of their capacities. The shrewd, scheming ones were fun to hate, and the nice characters quite wonderful. There are some characters that I wish we Readers had had more time to know, such as Lord Finton's valet Simon. He seemed like a creepy guy who would have added a lot to the story.

The Romance: This was the biggest problem I had with Cinders & Sapphires. The romance isn't annoying, but it did happen too fast. Ravi is a nice sort of person; I did really like him, as he was constantly supportive of Ada's wishes to go to university and take her future into her hands. But I had a hard time becoming invested in Ravi and Ada's relationship because we Readers hardly even know them before they are falling head-over-heels in love. It quite literally just happens in the prologue, and suddenly Ravi and Ada can't live without each other. I hadn't even become emotionally attached to Ada at this point; how could I care about her romantic interest? As the story progressed, I didn't become much keener on their forbidden love, and I ended up deciding that as much as I liked Ravi, I was totally supportive of Ada marrying Lord Finton instead. Lord Finton was also a very nice sort of guy, also very supportive of Ada's wish to go to university, and they had a great many other things they agreed on, such as women's rights. Ravi was a potential rebel hothead, and without a steady livelihood. Lord Finton had already established himself, and he would be accepted by Ada's family. All in all, Lord Finton seemed to me the best choice, and this only furthered my disinterest in Ravi and Ada's passionate - and untested - feelings.

Plot: The Averleys may be an old family, and Somerton may be a rich and ancient estate, but Lord Westlake - Ada Averley's father - has brought disgrace upon the Averley name. And in more ways than Ada knows. Somerton is also losing money, as Lord Westlake's nephew Sir William squanders it away on gambling and expensive endeavors. As the eldest daughter, it is up to Ada to marry well and restore the good name of Averley. But her new stepmother and stepsister aren't making things easy, and when Ada falls in love with Ravi Sundaresan, an Oxford student from India, she has to make a difficult decision between choosing her own happiness and doing her duty. Meanwhile, downstairs, Rose Cliffe dearly wishes she could better her position in life and become a musician rather than live out her days as a housemaid. So when she's appointed to be Ada and Georgianna's ladies' maid, she eagerly accepts. She's surprised to find Ada such an agreeable mistress, and one who treats her like an equal. The two slowly form a friendship, and when Ada asks Rose to deliver secret letters to Ravi, Rose agrees. But Ada's new stepfamily aren't the only ones who want to cause trouble. Stella, Charlotte Templeton's ladies' maid, has taken a special dislike toward Rose and will do anything to see her dismissed. If she happens to destroy Lady Ada's reputation along the way, she won't mind in the least. Cinders & Sapphires is, essentially, Downton Abbey for teens. While not quite as much drama or even number of characters, there's still quite a bit of it going on. And of course, as soon as I made the comparison, I couldn't help but see echoes of certain Downton Abbey characters in Cinders & Sapphires. In some ways, it endeared the novel to me all the more; in other ways, it kind of made me roll my eyes. So if you're like me and love Downton Abbey and all of the drama therein, you'll love this book. An old estate close to ruin, a young noblewoman faced with difficult choices, a housemaid struggling to better her life, and plenty of other drama both downstairs and upstairs, the plot isn't exactly a fast-paced one. It's all scandals and family dynamics. There's no battles or narrow escapes or mysterious societies. Therefore, it's not a plot that would appeal to everyone, but I enjoyed it. It's definitely character-driven, and I loved learning about each character's past and what secrets they might be hiding (because in stories like these, everyone has something to hide). There were moments when I really became totally engrossed in what was happening to certain characters (mostly Rose), and I would turn the pages faster in concern. While not everyone's cup of tea, Cinders & Sapphires won't disappoint those Readers it will appeal to.

Believability: The only historical discrepancy I found was it is stated at one point that Ada's corset is ribbed with whalebone. By 1912, whalebone had most definitely been replaced with steel ribbing.

Writing Style: Third person, past tense. There being so many characters, and thus a lot of different stories to tell, perspectives change around a lot, and sometimes right in the middle of a chapter. It's rarely confusing, though, and I enjoyed all of the different points of view. The writing style itself is wonderfully descriptive and the dialogue is fitting for the era. However, the Author sometimes fails to mention how much time has passed in between scenes, and that can get confusing. What feels like only a few hours in between incidents can turn out to actually be several months.

Content: In true Downton Abbey fashion, there is a gay valet, whose "boyfriend" happens to be Sebastian. And yes, Sebastian and said gay valet have their own set of dramatics. I was a little annoyed at first, because I didn't see any purpose behind making Oliver and Sebastian gay, and therefore marked it down as the Author was trying to make a point. But then it ends up playing a rather pivotal role to the plot, and I was less irritated with it.

Conclusion: Throughout the book, the Author keeps Readers speculating on how things will turn out for Ravi and Ada, and how everyone else's dramas will play out. And while Ada's drama and even Rose's is not resolved by any means, in the end I felt like the Author had revealed too much for a first book in a planned series. Everyone's dirty secrets have been uncovered, and Sebastian's problems with Lord Finton's valet Simon conclude far too rapidly (though there's still something left to happen with Oliver). There's no mystery left over for Book Two. Despite a shallow romance and the whole Sebastian/Oliver pairing, I really did enjoy Cinders & Sapphires. It's well written, there's a lot of different characters to love and hate, and of course the era is just awesome. I look forward to the sequel.

Recommended Audience: Girl-read, fifteen-and-up (adults will really enjoy this as well). Perfect for Downton Abbey fans!

Others in the At Somerton Series:
1)Cinders & Sapphires
2)Diamonds & Deceit

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