Cinders and Sapphires (At Somerton #1) by Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires (At Somerton, #1)From Goodreads:

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.

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The intrigue, romance, and scandal made this book SO tough to put down. Fans of Downton Abbey will love the upstairs- downstairs feel and relish the intrigue swirling through the Westlake household. Secret ambitions, family secrets, and forbidden love unabashedly drive the story.

In addition to numerous intrigues, Cinders and Sapphires centers on the relationships among the Westlake family and servants. Major and minor players in the household find themselves eagerly and inadvertently drawn into others’ machinations and secret pursuits. The enmeshed lives of the family and servants really emphasize how the behavior of one household member can directly and irrevocably affect the reputations and lives of other members. Somerton’s opulence and hierarchal insularity is tempered by the progressivism and social changes the early 20th century brings. The problems of the era – urban poverty, failing imperialism, women’s rights – ground the story and grant it some historical truth.

The characters are not as particularly clever or well-developed as I would have liked. Some characters are stock good, like Georgiana and Michael, and stock evil, like Martha and Tobias. Idealistic Rose and Ada are blandly wholesome and unwilling players in the Templeton ladies’ and Stella’s scheming. Minor flatness aside, I could understand and sympathize with most of the characters. Given all the vindictive plotting players like Charlotte and Fiona do, further insight into their motivations and perspective would have made them more compelling if not likable. I will be honest: the schemings and scandal make up for the less than stellar characterization.

A powerful need for good old comeuppance also propelled me through the book. I wanted cruel plotters thwarted and good hearted romantics rewarded. The romantic aspects of the story were a mixed bag. I found it difficult to invest in the Ada’s and Ravi’s love. Despite the pair’s strong attraction, we never actually see the relationship develop from allure at first sight into love. Infatuation? Yes. True, risk-everything-and-anything love? I’m not quite sold. We’re given nothing to suggest that this isn’t just mooning, cow-eyed first love for either of them. Sebastian and Oliver’s romance, however, was far more interesting and believable. Neither is the other’s first romantic – or physical – encounter and both have been wounded by prior scornful lovers. The two are also painfully aware of the social, financial and legal dangers their relationship poses. Their romance culminates in a cliffhanger of sorts and I desperately want to see if and how it can be saved.

Overall: A delicious page turner with all sumptuousness of the societal elite and intrigue that accompanies it. Fans of social scheming, Downton Abbey’s setting/period, and historical YA will find something to like about this book.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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