Book Review: T.J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey

Posted February 15, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: T.J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey

Summerset Abbey

in Paperback edition on January 15, 2013 and has 288 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Summerset Abbey historical fiction series. The focus here is on Prudence Tate, an unwitting victim of class prejudice.

My Take

While this is a full-length novel, it’s really more of a prologue as it sets up the series and introduces the characters along with their particular issues. Based on what I’ve read in Summerset Abbey, it should be a tumultuous read ahead with all the clamor over the upstairs/downstairs attitudes, women’s rights, unions, the uppity Buxtons’ obsession over scandal as they sweep their missteps under the rug, the more-open Buxtons’ who appear to have split along personality lines, and all the brouhaha set up by Prudence’s existence.

Prudence may be the central pivot in this story, but Brown has set up some interesting side characters, and I’ll be very curious to see where their new interests take them.

The Buxtons are two sides of one class: the entitled aristocracy and the enlightened nobles. The entitled are aghast at the enlightened…and vice versa. And I don’t think the entitled have a leg to stand on, especially in their neighbors’ opinions.

My Whines include:
If they’re so concerned about Prudence, why don’t the girls insist on her waiting on them 24/7? Why not sneak Prudence into Victoria’s bed? Why not insist she come along on their walks or rides? Philip knew what awaited Prudence outside his circle, so why didn’t he take steps to protect her?

I can’t imagine that a lady’s maid would work in the kitchen. And I don’t buy it that neither Rowen nor Vic know this or that they don’t take steps to ensure her presence in their rooms more than in her cubby.

So after all that whining, this was good if thin. Well-researched with a great cast of characters to take on the issues at the turn of last century, but for all the social issues, there isn’t any real depth. It simply skims the surface.

A nasty look at class prejudices with a cast of characters that Brown pulls you in with wanting to love, to hit, to care for, to destroy. I hate the ending, as it doesn’t really end. And maybe that was the point, so we want to read the next in this new series.

I look forward to reading A Bloom in Winter this coming March.

The Story

Sir Philip Buxton, the girls’ father, has just died. And their uncle intends to upset their little family completely, for he and the countess despise how Philip raised his girls. And they hate a woman of whose existence they shouldn’t even be aware.

Summerset Abbey is a house of love and hate equally distributed downstairs and upstairs, and it revolves around Prudence.

There’s a mystery about our Prudence, and she’s certainly exciting a lot of attention from everyone!

The Characters

Prudence Tate is their governess’ daughter, who was raised as one of Sir Philips’ girls. And she’ll ever be grateful to him for it. Alice Tate was her mother and there’s some huge secret about her! Victoria is the frail younger sister with a secret while Rowena is the older sister and a member of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies. Sir Philip Buxton was a botanist, a bohemian who appreciated art, literature, and informality, and considered Prudence part of the family.

Sir Philip’s household staff consisted of:
Hodgekins is the butler; Mrs. Tannis is the housekeeper; Carl is the footman; Katie is both lady’s maid and scullery maid; and, she’s in on the secret.

The Earl of Summerset, Conrad, is their snobby uncle, Philip’s older brother, who will function as the guardian of their financial trusts. I’m confused as to the countess’ name as she is referred to throughout as Aunt Charlotte, but is imposingly introduced at one point as Ambrosia Huxley Buxton. Between the two, they despise Prudence and are busily scheming how to get rid of her. Colin and Elaine are their children.

The staff at Summerset Abbey includes:
Mrs. Harper is the housekeeper; Hortense is Lady Summerset’s French maid; Cairns is the butler; Nanny Iris Coombes took care of Philip and Conrad when they were young; Susie, the scullery maid, and Andrew Wilkes, one of the footmen, befriend Prudence; and, Katz is the earl’s valet.

Particular friends of Colin’s include Lord Billingsley, Sebastian, who notices Prudence at the funeral; Lord Cliveon; and, Kit, who takes an interest in Vic.

Lady Edith Billingsly is Sebastian’s mother; she has her own plans for whom her son will marry.

Sir Philip’s friends include:
Rupert Brooke is a “high-strung and handsome young poet”; Ben Tillet is “the iron-jawed unionleader”; and, Roger Fry is “the controversial artist”.

Douglas Dirkes
is the big man with a possibly Scottish accent who owns a motorcar manufacturing plant and is now experimenting with airplanes. Jon Wells is a Buxton neighbor, and the pilot who crashed. George Wells is his older brother, and neither of them like the Buxtons.

Wesley Tate is Prudence’s cousin; Mildred is her grandmother.

Miss Fister runs the typing and shorthand school.

The Cover and Title

It’s all creams and summer blue sky with, I’m guessing, a beautifully dressed Prudence in her creamy, elaborate evening gown in front of a very majestic and imposing Summerset Abbey.

The title is the setting for this introduction to the series of the same name, Summerset Abbey.