Cinders and Sapphires
By Leila Rasheed
Published: January 22, 2013
Lady Ada Averley's life changes when she returns to England after living abroad in India. Her father, Lord Westlake, left India under a cloud of scandal and he is about to marry for the second time. Lady Ada has ambitions to attend Oxford, a dream that she shares with Ravi, the handsome young Indian man she meets aboard ship. She knows however that this is a dream unlikely to come true just like her secret romance with Ravi. Her new stepfamily also has its secrets and so do the servants at Somerton.
Cinders and Sapphires capitalizes on the Downton Abbey craze but unlike other similar books, it tackles some serious issues along side the "scandal". Racism, Imperialism, women's rights, homosexuality, and social class are just a few of the themes that are explored. While these are serious topics, the book also manages to hold onto a lighter tone so it is never preachy or overbearing.
The main characters are Lady Ada and her maid Rose though we also get to read from the perspective of the valet Oliver and Lady Ada's new stepbrother Sebastian. There are many other side characters, perhaps too many. It might have worked better to save some of the story lines for the next book such as Sebastian's troubles. I think it would have allowed us to get to know the characters better without so many different stories to juggle.
Something that I really appreciated was the inclusion of an Indian as a main character. While we don't really get to read from Ravi's perspective (hopefully that will happen in the sequel) it was good to see an Indian character and to hear his thoughts on the politics of the day and how his perspective differed from Ada who thought she knew the real India. It would have been nice if this was covered in more detail but this type of book usually just touches the surface of historical topics, focusing on the scandals and romance instead.
The romance between Ada and Ravi didn't completely work for me. She fell in love with him pretty much instantly when she met him on the ship. Of course part of the appeal was that he was going to Oxford and she had dreams to go there too. He also didn't talk to her in the same way that young men of her acquaintance normally did. I just wish that the relationship was given more time to develop at a natural pace. I still liked both characters and look forward to seeing what the future holds for them as the series progresses.
Overall even with the flaws, I found this novel entertaining and even learned a little from reading it. It is somewhat similar to the Luxe series though it lacks the emotional pull. I think Cinders and Sapphires would appeal to readers who prefer their historical fiction on the lighter side and to those who just can't get enough of Downton Abbey.
Note: I received an e-ARC for review courtesy of NetGalley