Friday, January 25, 2013

“At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires” by Leila Rasheed

Age: Young Adult, Ages 14 and up
Genre: Fiction(historical)

This review is based on a digital sneak peak copy provided by Disney Book Group which did not include the full novel. The review is of the first thirteen chapters.

At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires is the story of the many characters who inhabit the Somerton estate in England at the beginning of the 20th century. The story mainly follows Lady Ada Averley, daughter of the Earl of Westlake, and her ladies’ maid, Rose. Rose has grown up at Somerton with her mother, Mrs. Cliffe, who works as head housekeeper. At the age of sixteen, Rose has just been promoted to lady’s maid after serving as a lowly housemaid for many years. Rose is very nervous about moving into a new position with so much more responsibility, not to mention visibility in the house. Some of the other staff think Rose is not ready for such a position, and Rose is inclined to agree. What Rose doesn’t know is that her promotion is in thanks to her mother suggesting it to Lord Westlake, who mysteriously feels he owes something to the young housemaid.

Lady Ada is sixteen and about to “come out” for her first season, a term that here means she will be introduced to society and attend balls and parties in order to meet suitable bachelors. But she is not interested in anyone but a young Indian man whom she knows she is forbidden to love. Lady Ada also wants to attend Oxford, a notion which her father finds foolish since he believes women don’t need to be formally educated since they only need to serve their husbands and run their homes.

In this upstairs/downstairs story, author Leila Rasheed juggles so many characters that they get a little hard to follow. I found myself having to flip back and forth through pages to remind myself how everyone is related. A family tree or character map at the beginning would have helped so the reader has a reference point. Despite this confusion, however, the problems presented in the story kept me reading to see what would develop. I don’t know that the setting will appeal to the average young adult reader, but the themes of longing for love and acceptance are universal. As a fan of the TV series Downton Abbey, I felt I had a good grounding in the class system and positions of the members of the household in this novel since the setting is very similar, which helped me understand what was going on. In fact, I often pictured and heard the characters from Downton in the roles of Cinders. I enjoyed what I have read so far and look forward to reading the completed novel.

Bibliographical Information:
Rasheed, Leila. At Somerton: Cinders and Sapphires. Disney Book Group, 2013.

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