My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Summary: From the #1 New York Times bestselling author comes an epic saga of intrigue and mystique set in Edwardian England. Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, lives there with his wife Felicity and their six children. Walter Swann, the premier male of the Swann family, is valet to the earl. His wife Alice, a clever seamstress who is in charge of the countess's wardrobe, also makes clothes for the four daughters. For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl's daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again.
I bought this (and its sequel) a while ago but hadn't got around to reading it. This is a hazard of the very deep To Be Read pile in ebook form. One forgets. As luck would have it, I received a Netgalley pre-approval invite to read the trilogy (as the final book arrives in June 2016) and that reminded me I owned them & prompted me to propel these to the top of my reading list. It wasn't a bad read & totally qualifies for my "Downton Abbey" fix list.
The Inghams are a handsome & good-natured aristocratic Yorkshire family who have what I can only say is a somewhat bizarre entwinement with a retainer family, the Swanns. Much ado is made of the pretty much blood oath bind the Swanns have in fealty to the Inghams ("Loyalty binds me"). The oath's so oft mentioned that it took on a creepy quality when the lengths they'd go to to protect the Inghams and sacrifice themselves, was on display. I don't know what is the origination of the fealty but perhaps that's addressed in future books. It seemed like Swann women, who just happen not to be married, just kept conveniently falling for the Ingham men who of course, can't marry them. I actually loved & laughed at the instance of one of the Inghams saying as much to a Swann. The Ingham men dutifully marry wives that either they realize after 20 years aren't their true match or go into marriage knowing they aren't, to get proper aristocratic issue. Conveniently, the Swann women don't seem to attract any man who isn't an Ingham and if the Ingham they love is already married they slip into dutiful spinsterhood waiting, just in case. The Ingham men find the Swann women irresistible but there's no evidence that the Swann men ever dared to fall in love with the Ingham women or marry them (Harry, I'm looking at you & I'm pulling for you!) or that the Ingham women are ever interested in them. So there's that.
The main point of this story is what befalls Daphne Ingham and much of the suspense to be had is in whether or not things will work out for her. Not only did they but in such a big way that I chided myself for having worried about it earlier in the story at all. This turned out to be a neatly tied Happily Ever After story but I hadn't realized that going in. By the summary, I'd thought the Great War would figure in more & that the families would be in much more turmoil, peril and possible ruin, so much so that I didn't want to get attached to any male characters of soldiering age.
In the end, I must say that I liked it and had very much cared about some of the characters. There are a good many of them & there's no way all could shine here or even have much development. I still feel like Felicity's turn came out of nowhere but she's not so deeply drawn that I can call if out of character behaviour. And the whole Charles/Charlotte romance is for me, marred by the fact that she'd been his father's mistress in the past. Her offering him his father's silk dressing gown after their enjoining was skeevy, not romantic as the scene intended. I'll be glad to read the next. One criticism, the ending felt rather abrupt and if I didn't have the sequel at the ready to read & had to wait for it, that'd have ticked me right off.
If you like your pool & seaside reads easy and breezy this is the book for you. Definitely recommended. If you're looking for a glittering family more deeply affected by the Great War, I recommend the deWitts of The Storms of War & The Edge of the Fall by Kate Williams.
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