Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cinders and Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed is set in the same post-Edwardian era as Downton Abbey (which I adore), and I was hoping for something along those lines. I also expected that there might be a Cinderella-esque quality to the story, going by the title. At first, this book seems to deliver . . .

Lady Ada Averley, her father, and her younger sister Georgiana are returning to England from India, with just the faintest whisper of scandal trailing behind them due to her father's abrupt resignation from his government post. One evening on the return voyage, Lady Ada ventures on deck for a breath of fresh air, and encounters Ravi, a handsome Indian student bound for Oxford. In their brief encounter, the two are instantly attracted to one another (and share a kiss! Scandalous!), but they are bound for different worlds. Though Ada dreams of studying at Oxford, she must begin looking for a suitable match in London's social scene. At Somerton, the Averley family's ancestral home, several surprises await: Lady Ada and Georgiana will soon gain a stepmother, stepsister, and two stepbrothers. Lady Ada carries on a secret correspondence with Ravi, who proves to have radical leanings. And then there's Rose, the housekeeper's daughter, who has just been promoted to the post of ladies' maid, and who has secrets that she herself doesn't know she's hiding. There's plenty of drama both upstairs and down, with a cast of characters as varied (though not as well-written or well-developed) as that of Downton. But then, near the end of the book, one particular plot twist had me going WHAT IS THIS I DON'T EVEN. Ada's father makes a decision to do something that would have engulfed the family in just the sort of scandal they've spent the whole book trying to avoid, except that it doesn't, and his actions are apparently accepted without question by polite society. I've looked at other reviews, and nobody else seems to be bothered by this, so maybe it's just me, but my understanding of societal rules of the period suggest that the ending of the book is massively unrealistic. Then again, this is the first book in a series, so it's possible that the author plans to deal with the fallout in the next book.

So, if it hadn't been for the ending I would have recommended this book to those who, like me, are dreading the Downton Abbey withdrawal that's about to hit USA viewers. As it is, if you are not very picky about accuracy in your historical fiction and just want something that evokes that era, this might be a good book for you (boy, does that sound like I am trying to insult you if you read this book and like it). But I'd love to hear from someone who has read the book and feels that the ending is supportable, because maybe I am blowing it out of proportion. I can tell you that if you are not a Downton Abbey fan you will almost certainly not like this book, as the pacing, the multiplicity of characters, and the scheming and plotting definitely owe a bit to the show.
(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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