Our pick for Historical Fiction Saturday is T.J. Brown's Spring Awakening (Summerset Abbey, #3). We're big fans of TJ's and the series, and we're excited to be sharing this review with you!
Historical Fiction is a rotating segment where we discuss books that will appeal to the supernatural or fantasy crowd. This segment rotates with Sci-Fi Saturday and Supernatural Saturday.
Paperback, 288 pages
Expected publication: August 6th 2013 by Gallery Books
Back in January, I was experiencing a bit of a post-Downton Abbey slump. So I googled around for books that were similar to Downton Abbey, and stumbled onto Summerset Abbey.
One review later, and I was purchasing the book on Amazon. Three days later, I had read the book, and was back to googling for the sequel.
Fortunately for me, I quickly discovered that not only was Summerset Abbey going to be a trilogy, but all three books were scheduled to be released in 2013.
(Yes - T.J. Brown is a writing speed demon. Not only did she write all three Summerset Abbey books within a nine-month period, she also wrote the YA book Born Of Illusiontoo. Incredible, right?)
To make a long story short: I purchased A Bloom in Winter after it was released, and loved it too. So I decided to take a chance, and see if I could get an ARC from Gallery Books for Spring Awakening.
Luckily for me, the lovely Kristin at Gallery Books kindly sent me a bound manuscript in May, and I absolutely devoured the book in one day. This is the type of book that will make you laugh, cry and be absolutely bummed out that the series has come to an end.
WWI has broken out, and Rowena, Victoria and Prudence's worlds have been irrevocably changed forever.
Rowena: Caught between an engagement that she isn't entirely sure that she wants, and memories of a man who has taken almost everything from her, Rowena throws herself into the war effort by embarking on piloting duties that even the most stalwart of men aren't always willing to take on.
Victoria: After her incarceration, Victoria is more determined than ever to prove her capabilities and independence. She develops a talent for nursing, which leads her far away from home, further than she's ever traveled. On the way, she’ll realize that there are some things from her old life, which she may not want to lose after all.
Prudence: Following a rocky start to her marriage, Prudence is finally settling into her new life. However, her husband’s decision to deviate from his chosen career path, into one that would actively put him into harm’s way, rocks Prudence’s marriage in ways that she never anticipated.
In the final Summerset Abbey book, all three women must work toward securing the futures that they want, and the dreams that they hope to achieve.
Things that worked:
Just like the previous two Summerset books, one of the most notable things aboutSpring Awakening are the characterizations of Rowena, Victoria and Prudence.
They’ve grown in leaps and bounds since the first two books. They’re more confident in their abilities, they have a stronger belief in themselves, and they just feel more adult, if that makes any sense. Brown has done a spectacular job of showing the transformation from the hesitant, lost, and reluctant women recovering from the loss of a father in the first book, to the confident, self-assured women that we find in the third book.
While I loved how each of the “sisters” – because, let’s face it, they are sisters – have developed throughout the course of the trilogy, I was especially struck with Victoria’s transformation in Spring Awakening.
Her activism in the third book, becomes something that is far more than just a hobby or interest that she does to prove her strength. It becomes a way of life, and it’s remarkable at how it only not only impacts her world and the people around her, but also the reader’s perception of her.
I was also touched by both Rowena and Prudence’s discovery of their ability to love. They both learn, through two unique sets of circumstances, that they aren’t quite as damaged as they might have believed. They are both capable of loving unexpected individuals, and in the most unexpected ways.
* The evolving role of women
One of the things I love the most about T.J.’s characters verses say the characters on Downton Abbey is the fact that all three of the sisters have been consistently dedicated to exploring their own strengths. .
From the beginning of the series, Rowena, Prudence and Victoria have clearly understood that they’re bound by the confines of society. However, this also hasn’t stopped them from furthering and working on their interests – whether it’s been flying, healing/nursing and women’s rights, or just general housewife responsibilities.
Rowena, Prudence and Victoria take charge of their lives in a way, despite the societal constraints, in a way that I feel like their counterparts from Downton can’t even begin to compete with. This is especially true in Spring Awakening, where the women actually take advantage of the war to prove their worth not only to society around them, but to themselves. Rowena in particular is daring in a way that is fantastically shocking.
* The historical details
This is one of those times where I have to remain frustratingly vague, because I don’t want to give too much away.
But I will say that T.J. does a spectacular job incorporating the historical details of the period using both real-world facts, and sprinkling in character-related specifics, to build her world. I was especially impressed with the roles that all three women took on as a part of the wartime effort. They were both historically realistic, but were also fitting for all of the characters themselves.
* The ending
Without giving too many spoilers away, I thought the ending wrapped up all of the story lines beautifully - including addressing some of the overarching obstacles from the first and second book.
Teri also did a good job of making sure that there were enough interesting and outstanding story lines, so that if she ever chooses to revisit the world in the future, there will be plenty of interesting plots and issues to explore.
General bookish things:
* The writing:
One of the difficulties about writing a book with three different points of view, is making sure that all three characters sound distinctive.
Brown accomplishes this spectacularly. The differences between Rowena, Prudence and Victoria are as clear as night and day. Their voices, thoughts and reactions to the world around them, are distinctive and notable, even in third person.
Not once did I think I think that the voices sounded the same, and not once did I get confused as to whose narration I was reading.
(Not that this actually happens when I’m reading narrative voices which do sound the same, but… you get my point.)
I’ve seen some reviews for previous Summerset Abbey books express concerns about pacing. However, I personally think that plotting is actually one of Brown’s strongest points.
Brown is writing about an era in which women weren’t allowed to do any of the explosive, daring things that we can read about in contemporary/sci-fi/fantasy books. Yet, she makes simple day-to-day activities like going to tea at a prospective in-law’s house, seem exciting and daring. It’s incredibly impressive.
Things that didn't work/Things to consider:
After thinking about it, I would have loved for some further insight into how Prudence and her husband were adjusting to his medical condition, and the new addition to their family.
However, this isn't necessarily because I felt like Brown didn't write enough about the two of them. It's more that I was so interested in Prudence's evolution ass a character; I could have easily read an entire book just about her family, and their new life in London.
So any desire for more development is basically me just being greedy as a reader. (Hah.) Other than that, I feel like all of the plotlines were wrapped up beautifully; the characters all had well-developed conclusions to their personal arcs, and the writing was better than ever.
Final verdict: I'm fairly certain that Spring Awakening was intended as the final book in the Summerset Abbey series.
However, T.J. Brown has created a cast of characters in a world that's so rich, full of love and life, I - and I'm sure, other readers like me - would absolutely not object if the series were to continue.
(Seriously, Teri. Write MORE!)
I highly recommend this book for fans of Downton Abbey, but I also recommend this book for readers who are just interested in reading a book with strong and intelligent female characters, set against the backdrop of a period where women were only beginning to realize their true potential for the first time.
Disclaimer: I received an ARC of Spring Awakening from Gallery Books, in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you, guys! You rock!)