As an avid fan of Downton Abbey, I really enjoyed CINDERS & SAPPHIRES. The story swings from the privileged (but tension-filled) life of the Earl of Westlake's family to the difficult (and no less tension-filled) lives of the servants who take care of the family. The writing is clear and crisp and never gets in the way of the story itself. I thoroughly enjoyed the entire reading experience. The author has created a book that makes historical fiction feel accessible for younger YA readers or readers who are just trying out historical fiction.
The world-building is superb. I could see every scene, and I felt like I was living inside the world of Somerton (or London, depending). The story takes place in the difficult age of old social etiquette meeting new ideas of modernity (motor cars and women being educated) and that tension grows taut as the book progresses.
I enjoyed the characters, for the most part. I certainly found myself caught up in the narrative. I especially longed for Ada, the Earl's oldest daughter, to figure out a way to follow her dreams of being educated and her feelings for her first love without losing her family home or compromising her family's tenuous social position. While I didn't feel the all-consuming love for Ada or the other characters that I do when a book doesn't focus on such a large cast, I really loved the deft story-telling and sweeping plot.
What Left Me Wanting More:
As much as I love the way Downton Abbey skips from one character's narrative/storyline to another, I was less enamored of that approach while reading. The end result of seeing bits of the story through so many different eyes is that I never fully connected with any of the characters the way I wanted to. I'm sure that spending more time with the characters in future books in this series will remedy that, as I truly did enjoy the story as a whole.
Accomplished story-telling and superb world-building make this sweeping historical a welcome addition to the historical fiction genre.