Summerset Abbey

Written by T. J. Brown
Review by Jeanne Greene

In the first of a series set in England before World War I, Prudence Tate, an orphan, shares the loving home that Sir Philip Braxton provides for his two daughters in London. But Sir Philip dies, leaving a will that appoints his elder brother, the Earl of Summerset, as guardian for Rowena, 23, and Victoria, 18, and makes no provision for Prudence, 20.

When the young women arrive at the Braxton estate, Summerset Abbey, their lives change overnight. Raised in an enlightened environment, all three have goals and values at odds with those of the manipulative Lady Summerset, whose first priority is arranging an advantageous marriage for her own daughter and, secondly, her nieces. Prudence is relegated to servant status while the others are groomed to meet potential husbands.

Summerset Abbey teems with secrets. Insecurity and anxiety lead to Rowena’s sense of failure, Prudence’s loss of self-esteem, and Victoria’s obsession with privacy. As each seeks to compensate in predictable ways, rivalries develop. Friendships are tested and seem to fall apart.

If this sounds melodramatic, it is. Do not expect depth of characterization, historical relevance, or the insight into prewar society that is sometimes found in this genre. Summerset Abbey is for readers who enjoy the interconnected stories of young women in an era vaguely different from their own. Summerset Abbey #2: A Bloom in Winter is expected in March 2013.