Up until now, every single Series Spotlight post I’ve written has been about a series I’m raving about. Sadly, this particular spotlight is on a trilogy that bothered me for a multitude of reasons. The Summerset Abbey trilogy by T.J. Brown started out with an enormous amount of potential. However, as the series continued I found myself aggravated not only with certain characters, but with larger statements the trilogy was making.
All three books revolve around three “sisters.” I say “sisters” because two of the three women, Rowena and Victoria, are actually sisters. The third young woman, Prudence, was their governess’s daughter and was raised like their sister after her mother’s death. When Rowena and Victoria’s father Sir Phillip dies, their uncle steps in to bring them to his estate for his wife to raise. Their uncle is not forward-thinking at all. He believes Prudence has no place in their lives and society, as she’s the daughter of a servant. Thus begins the tale of how one man’s death changes the ideals, lives, and futures of three young women. Rather than talk about each book individually, I’m going to discuss each of the three main female characters.
Prudence: Of the three women, she started out as my favorite. Her plight from a girl raised with wealth, freedom, and status to being thrust into a world of servitude and poverty was captivating. Her odd upbringing did her no favors in terms of helping her find her place in the world. In Rowena and Victoria’s home she was just as they were. Outfitted in nice clothes. Educated and not worked as a servant, though her mother was the governess. Sir Phillip was a man of forward thinking who didn’t believe in the rigidity of the social classes. He encouraged the girls to be freethinkers themselves, and all of this led to Prudence believing she could accomplish great things someday. The girls’ uncle, however, doesn’t believe in this way of thinking and tells Rowena that Prudence is not welcome at his estate. Rowena, needing Pru, tells her uncle that Prudence is really their lady’s maid. This is how Prudence finds herself in the servants quarters. She is not welcome above stairs nor below, as the servants recognize she’s not truly of their class.
I found Prudence to be the character that had the MOST potential and the one that flopped the hardest. She makes a decision at the end of book one that just doesn’t match up to her character’s intelligence at all. Over the course of the next two books we’re left to watch the repercussions of her decision. At the end of three books I still didn’t understand the motives behind her decision nor did I really feel like she was happy. She just seemed resigned to what her life was. And what kind of statement does that tell readers? Here is this young woman, brought up with education, music lessons, and access to the suffragette movement among other things. And where do we see her wind up? Struggling to bake bread and wash clothes. Her potential was completely revoked, the minute that decision at the end of book one was made.
Rowena: From start to finish, I disliked her. From our first introduction to her she’s selfish, impulsive, rude, and stuck-up. I cut her a bit of slack knowing her father had just died, but even in book three – she’s just…ugh, aggravating. All she cares about is herself and finding ways to make her feel “alive.” She allows her uncle to run roughshod over all of her and Victoria’s feelings on moving, their obligations to society, and most importantly, what they can “do” as women. Her inability to help herself or to help others truly bothered me.
Victoria: While she started out a bit boring for my taste, she quickly rose up the ladder in my mind and is the reason why I stuck with the entire series. I wanted to know HER story and her’s alone. Of the three women she is the only one that fights for what she wants, and the only one that tries to better herself and the world around her. She fights with her Aunt and Uncle about Prudence constantly, even standing up to them pretty amazingly at one point. She becomes a nurse during the war to help those around her. She becomes friends with one of the scullery maids in the estate’s kitchen and brings her to London, giving her a more decent future. She’s definitely the most nurturing of the three women, as she is always worried about the causes of others (a bit naively at some points.)
So what are the larger points of this story that bothered me? For one thing, why were the majority of the women in the books bitches? Also, did the insanely crazy side of the Women’s Suffragette Movement have to be the only one shown? Sure there were women who did crazy things all in the name of women’s rights, but there were also amazing women like Alice Paul and Millicent Fawcett, who could have been used to show another less vindictive/less self-serving side of the movement.
Even with all of the nonsense above that bothered me I do have to give Brown props for her work on the historical front. Her incorporation of the clashing of social classes and overarching effects of the war were done brilliantly.
In (story) chronological order (with my ratings) the series is: