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Reviewed by Colleen Turner
When Lady Cecily Burkhart’s parents die of the sweating sickness in 1527, the orphaned eight year old is sent as ward to the Pierce family at Castle Sumerton. The Pierce family – Hal Pierce (Lord Sumerton), Grace Pierce (Lady Sumerton) and their children, Mirabella and Brey – are kind and loving to their new addition. Cecily is a girl with a great fortune and they plan to align their families by marrying her to Brey. Even with their exterior happiness, however, there seems to be a secret sadness lurking below the surface at Sumerton, one that innocent Cecily lifts with her joy and affection.
As a child Cecily loves Brey and is happy with her planned future of marrying him and becoming Lady Sumerton. Mirabella is determined to have her own dream of becoming a nun and escaping the world she sees as shallow and corrupt come true. Both of the Sumerton Women are captivated by Father Alec, the family’s tutor and chaplain, and both grow under their special relationships with him. But when the dark secret lurking below the surface of Sumerton is revealed it starts the downward spiral of the family, one that seems to see no shortage of betrayal and vengeance. Will any of them be able to seek forgiveness and make a life for themselves when the many lies are finally revealed?
Set against the backdrop of Henry VIII’s reign, his break from the Roman Catholic Church and the religious reformation that occurred, this was an interesting new angle to a time period I love. Having Mirabella ensconced in a monastery that is brutally ransacked and dissolved around her and seeing her fear for what else she can do with her life and for her God, as well as having Father Alec at the forefront of Archbishop Cranmer’s reformation work, gave insight into a part of Tudor England I knew little about.
That being said, the amount of sadness, death and destruction in The Sumerton Women became almost too much to bear at times. I kept wondering when something good would happen to the family and, when a ray of hope would shine through, it was almost instantly extinguished with another depressing event. Mirabella might be one of the vilest characters I have encountered in a while. She reminds me of the Evil Queen from Snow White, beautiful but bitter and cruel while always finding a way to justify her hatred. Cecily, in contrast, is a wonderful character that at times almost seems too forgiving and kind. The other characters fall somewhere in between, all flawed, relatable and well developed.
It is easy to see the grand message of the book once finished: that forgiveness, both for yourself and for others, is the only way to heal your life, let go of the past and move on. That being said, I just wish The Sumerton Women could have come to the message with less heartache for all the characters. All in all, the book was definitely well written and I would be happy to see what other books the author has to offer.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. 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 Kensington. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.
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