Published by William Morrow on June 4, 2019
Source: the publisher
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A brilliant, multigenerational saga in the tradition of THE THORN BIRDS and NORTH AND SOUTH, New York Times bestselling historical novelist Lauren Willig delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.
Barbados, 1854: Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous English merchant clan– merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day. But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned.
When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.
Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins? Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills? The answer lies in the past— a tangled history of lies, greed, clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.
THE SUMMER COUNTRY will beguile readers with its rendering of families, heartbreak, and the endurance of hope against all odds.
I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
The Summer Country by Lauren Willig is wonderful, fantastic, brilliant. This story was so immersive that it pulled me in and I felt like I was right there, watching everything unfold with both generations. Taking place over about forty years, this story has everything: wealth and slavery, love and romance, betrayal and secrecy. At first, I wasn’t sure how the two timelines would connect, but by the time they intersected, the stories felt seamless and I was in awe of Ms. Willig’s work.
1812: Charles Davenant is the owner of the large Peverills plantation and the favorite to wed Mary Anne, the heir to the Beckles plantation. A wedding between the two would merge the two properties and fortunes. However, Charles has his eyes not on Mary Anne, but on Jenny who is a slave in her house and Mary Anne’s closest confidante.
1854: Emily Dawson arrives in Barbados to claim the Peverills property that her grandfather has left to her after his recent death. She has no idea why he would leave this property to her or why he even had this property. When she arrives, she finds the property in complete ruins. She also is introduced to the Davenant family, who seem suspiciously interested in keeping her away from the Peverills property by generously “allowing” her to stay at their own home and blocking all of her attempts to gain information about her own property.
This story stands out to me for several reasons, but I want to specifically mention the women. While it was very clear to me that the characters across the dual timeline were connected in some way, I couldn’t be 100% sure for a long time. I would make my hypothesis about what I thought had happened, and then I would find I needed to backtrack and change it as new pieces of information were revealed. Throughout the story, the women were so badass to me, even when they were calculated and less than polite. They lived in a place and time where they didn’t have the freedoms that we do today. Just one example of this is that they didn’t get to retain control of their own land and money. This played a huge role in who these women grew to be, how they made their decisions, and how they viewed the world and the other people in it. It irritates me so much if I say something and get ignored or spoken over by a man, but in this story, it was understood that life was that way and they had little or no voice. This part of women’s history never ceases to be eye-opening for me and was particularly stunning within the confines of this story with how everything played out.
I also have to mention this setting. So lush and vivid and alive on these pages. Prior to reading this, I cannot remember reading a story set in Barbados before-certainly never during this time period, dealing with slavery and the rebellion and cholera and these exact subject matters, and I am well and truly fascinated. I loved putting the book down for a minute, going online, and looking up more of the history and as many maps and photos as I could find. I’m so excited and grateful when authors give me the opportunity to learn a little more while the entertain me.
And this writing is absolutely gorgeous. I’m usually a fairly fast reader, but I read slowly on purpose with this one. I read in a ton of smaller chunks to really soak it in and enjoy every word on the page rather than long periods of time over one or two or three long sittings.
Every single person that has seen this book in my house has mentioned how stunningly beautiful it is, and I agree. But reading the story has increased my admiration to beyond the cover. I have a few friends that live for the large, sweeping family sage-type stories, and The Summer Country is absolutely perfect for these readers. This one would really be wonderful read anytime, anywhere. But I think it would be particularly wonderful by a pool or by any water somewhere, or in the evenings in a nice, comfy reading chair. I personally read it in my reading chair and I love, love, loved it.