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Cinders & Sapphires

Cinders & Sapphires by Leila Rasheed

Cinders & Sapphires (At Somerton #1)

By: Leila Rasheed

Release Date: January 22, 2013

Rating: 3 Stars

Summary: 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.



Review:

By almost any measure, Cinders and Sapphires is not a good book. Think Gossip Girl meets Downton Abbey, heavy emphasis on Gossip Girl. In fact, the British period setting is the only aspect even remotely reminiscent of Downton Abbey. Yeah. Total train wreck right there. That said, sometimes a book will be so bad that it’s good, and for me Cinders and Sapphires is such a book – so hilariously over the top terrible that I ended up actually liking it.

So what’s wrong right? Basically, this is a book full of manufactured, petty scandals. Lady Ada Averly’s father, Lord Westlake, is forced out of his position as Lieutenant Governor of India because of some undisclosed wrongdoing that casts a cloud of suspicion over her family. Scandal! She kisses some Indian dude on the boat ride back to England and spends the rest of the book alternatively obsessing over him and neurosing about how inappropriate her actions are. Scandal! Upon arriving back at their estate, her father marries some lady because Westlake’s brother who’s been left in charge of Somerton has been mismanaging the finances and they’re almost broke. Scan… ok, that one sounds pretty typical actually. Ada’s new stepbrother is in the closet about his relationship with his valet AND being blackmailed by his former valet with whom he’s also had a relationship. Scandal! Ada’s new lady’s maid, Rose, is actually Westlake’s daughter and Ada’s illegitimate half sister. Scandal! Ada’s stepsister Charlotte desperately wants to marry this lord so she can get this nice title of nobility, except Ada pretends she’s interested in the same poor guy but really just needs an excuse to see that Indian guy again, and… yeah. Scandal!

Of course, the mere fact that the characters are basically just walking from one scandal into the next is only half of it. Cinders and Sapphires tries to be a legitimate book instead of a gossip rag – Leila Rasheed surprisingly tackles both the budding feminism of the day and the growing Indian discontent with British rule, and it’s not half bad done at all. Ada’s storyline about her dreams of going to Oxford and wanting to become an independent woman and Rose’s subplot about her being a talented composer but fearful of ‘rising above her station’ are pretty good tie-ins with the gradual evolution of gender and class perceptions over this period, and Ada’s debates with Indian dude Ravi over the merits and excesses of British rule went much farther than I expected and gave the impression Rasheed knows far more about the subject than I suspected at first blush. And the sharp eyed will pick out rumblings of the First World War in the distance – there’s definitely enough coverage of turn of the last century history that, at times (meaning for two or three paragraphs, half a page max), I almost thought I was reading an actual historical novel.

Unfortunately, reading this book and actively trying to find the historical elements I described above is really about as effective as looking for sober patrons at an Irish pub, because Rasheed went way overboard with the (laughably bad) scandals. I hope I’m not the only one who finds the notion of one kiss on a ship in the night leading to a true love I only have eyes for you type relationship between two star crossed lovers ridiculous, and then to add on top of it a love triangle of first convenience and then they might just actually work is just piling on the cheese. And completely drowns out Ada’s Oxford dreams storyline to boot. As for the others, Rose seems to be relegated to the goody role, while Charlotte gets cast as the evil conniving stepsister, not to mention the subplot with Ada’s stepbrother Sebastian perpetrates every conceivable gay stereotype ever – yes I’m sure what Sebastian goes through could conceivably happen given the social stigma and much worse attached to being gay at the time, but between the way his relationship with Oliver is written, the blackmail, him desperately trying to find a beard, and how the blackmail’s resolved, I don’t know, it’s just so over the top, cartoonish, and not serious at all.

I’m running out of observations at this point, so I guess what I’m saying is that Cinders and Sapphires is a potent combination of ridiculous petty drama and period… I don’t know what to call it, the history’s written with depth but how it’s covered is incredibly shallow. The overall result is a plot that’s admittedly bad… but I liked it.


Go to Mitch’s review on Goodreads.

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