A Race to Splendor begins in early 1906 with Amelia Bradshaw returning to San Francisco after completing her degree in architecture from the distinguished L ‘ Ecole des Beaux Arts in France. She is returning under both exciting and devastating circumstances: she hopes to land a position in the architectural firm of her friend and mentor Julia Morgan (in actuality the first woman to graduate with a degree in architecture from the same Parisian school) and to put to rights her father’s drunken loss during a card game of Amelia’s maternal grandfather’s glorious hotel, The Bay View.
Amelia arrives to find James Diaz Thayer, the black sheep of a wealthy and distinguished “founding family” of San Francisco, claiming to have won the hotel. Amelia’s claims of ownership are dismissed as she is unmarried and it is determined that her father has every right to manage her property as he sees fit. Feeling dejected, Amelia seeks employment with Julia Morgan, only to find that part time employment is all she can get.
On April 18th, 1906 at 5:12 a.m., as Ms. Bradshaw finishes her work for the night, the very ground under her rises up into a mass of destruction. Much of San Francisco is destroyed by a massive earthquake and subsequent fires, including The Bay View hotel, the newly completed masterpiece, The Fairmont hotel, and many other neighborhoods in exclusive Nob Hill. With the city in rubble, Julia Morgan is able to take Amelia on full time as a junior architect. Her first duty: to assist one of the firm’s newest clients, Mr. Thayer, in rebuilding the Bay View hotel!
Fighting her utter loathing for the man and determined to restore the home of her youth, Amelia sets off to work as best she can with her adversary. She wishes to build the hotel from the ashes surrounding them, even when she believes her father may have won the hotel back for her right before his death in the quake. While Julia Morgan rebuilds the Fairmont and J.D. and Amelia work together to build the Bay View, both teams become determined to beat the other and open first on or before the one year anniversary of the quake. But can Amelia and J.D. ever put their differences aside and work together towards one common goal? And, even if they can, can they overcome all the obstacles and greedy hands reaching out to make sure they never succeed?
A Race to Splendor is pitch perfect! While it is a hefty book, at no time does the storyline drag or feel forced. I immensely enjoyed watching Amelia and J.D.’s relationship shift and grow and to see how my opinions of each of the characters, both prominent and secondary, changed as more information was revealed.
A Race to Splendor brings to light many social issues, such as women’s rights and the rights of the Chinese immigrants forced into servitude at the turn of the 20th century, while also promoting how everyone has the chance to change, even those most likely not to. If you enjoy historical fiction, you won’t be disappointed with this gem.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son and pet fish. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Sourcebooks Landmark. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.