Diamonds and Deceit

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for Secrets and Sapphires. You can read my review of this novel [here].

Diamonds and Deceit was written by Leila Rasheed and first published in 2014. It is a historical romance set in the early 20th Century that focuses on the lives of the people who live and work on the wealthy Somerton Estate. The novel forms the second part of the At Somerton series – following Secrets and Sapphires (2013) and preceding Emeralds and Ashes (2015). Because of this, I would strongly recommend reading the novels in sequence to fully appreciate them.

A few months have passed since Lady Rose was formally adopted as one of Lord Westlake’s daughters and she is struggling to fit in. The other young Ladies refuse to accept her as one of them, disgusted by her poor upbringing. However, the serving staff behave strangely around her too, projecting a sense that they believe it improper for one of their station to ever believe that they belong in high society. As her season begins and she becomes attracted to a known ladies man, the Duke of Huntleigh, she knows that her feelings will never be reciprocated. What will Huntleigh think when he learns who she truly is?

Her sister, Ada, is also having a miserable time of things. There is a lot of pressure for her to accept Lord Fintan’s offer of engagement in order to save her family from poverty, however how can she do so in good conscience? Even though Ravi has returned to India, she still loves him dearly. It seems unfair to both of them to enter a loveless marriage. However, her choice may soon be taken from her. Charlotte is determined to have her revenge against her stepsister and has more than enough information at her fingertips to publicly shame both Ada and Lord Fintan.

Yet these are not the only dramas unfolding at the Somerton Estate. Sebastian is determined to prove that his love – Oliver – is innocent of murder. Michael must choose between going to Eton and finding a way to start a life with Priya, the Indian nursemaid. Georgina must find a way to stop the staff from leaving in protest of the authoritarian new housekeeper. If any of these scandals are discovered, they could spell the end of the Westlake family. Is there any way that they can hope to keep things together until Ada’s wedding can save the estate?

If you read my review of Secrets and Sapphires back in May, you probably remember me saying that these kinds of novels aren’t generally my thing. I don’t tend to read romantic novels for pleasure at all, and pre-World War I Britain isn’t a time period that holds a lot of interest to me. Because of that, I only really decided to give this novel a try because I already owned a copy of it. However, I must admit that I was pleasantly surprised. In some ways, Diamonds and Deceit was a much stronger novel than its prequel. However, it did still have a lot of the same problems, and one fairly major additional one. More on that shortly.

As with Secrets and Sapphires, this novel does not have much by way of an overarching plot. The only thing that truly ties the threads together is Ada’s impending marriage to Lord Fintan. Instead, the book is more like an early 20th Century soap opera. It further expands the twisting subplots of the first instalment, following a selection of characters from all walks of life as their scandals grow ever more convoluted. This time around, there was a lot less social commentary to be found. Until the epilogue, there was no real reference made to the political climate of the country. Instead, the book purely focused on chronicling the lives of a small group of ladies and their maids.

Yet, this time around, there seemed to be lack of focus on the male characters. While we do frequently encounter Lord Fintan and Alexander (the Duke of Huntleigh) through Ada and Rose’s stories, the novel frustratingly refuses to focus on Sebastian. This could be a personal thing, but Sebastian’s story was one of the ones that I found most interesting in the last book. I mean, his “scandalous” affair with his valet ended in a murder and a wrongful arrest! I really expected Oliver’s trial to be more important to this novel, but I was disappointed to find that it barely factors in. Only a couple of chapters focus on Sebastian’s story and it does not receive any kind of resolution.

The scandals of Diamonds and Deceit are much in the same vein as those in the previous novel, mainly focusing on inappropriate relationships and people being forced to choose between love and social standing. However, one of these scandals did leave a particularly bad taste in my mouth. Without saying too much to avoid spoilers, one plot thread focused on an established “gentleman” raping one of his maids.

While this did fit the attitude of the times and mostly occurred off page, it frustrated me that it did not really focus on the servant and her feelings at all. When the crime was eventually revealed, the novel instead showed the outrage of those closest to the affected parties, such as the family of the rapist. While this man is punished to a degree, his downfall was more a fall in social standing than any true justice in the legal sense. This just wasn’t on. Rape should never be used as a bad thing that happens to women. If it is used in a novel, I believe that it should always form a focal point, allowing the author to explore the effect that it has on the victim. This obviously was not the case in this novel.

As with Secrets and Sapphires, the novel also didn’t really have much of an ending. The final chapter is an epilogue set a year after the events of the main story, but it only reveals that fates of a couple of the characters. It was more of a lead into the final novel of the trilogy, ending as a radio announces the beginning of World War I. While the lack of closure was disappointing, it still made me a little curious to read Emeralds and Ashes. Perhaps the backdrop of World War I will provide a change of tempo for the final book.

Yet, for all my gripes, the main characters do receive a bit more development in Diamonds and Deceit. As very few new characters are introduced, it does mean that we are starting to get to know the core cast a bit better. Rose, in particular, receives a very strong character arc in this book, although I did find her instant (and mostly off page) attraction to Alexander more than a little frustrating. However Ada, on the other hand, really started to get on my nerves. While her attitude felt fairly modern in Secrets and Sapphires, her inability to understand Rose’s feelings this time around was not.

Charlotte, surprisingly, became a lot more sympathetic in Diamonds and Deceit but it was unfortunately unclear what became of her in the climax as she just kind of slipped out of the plot after a certain point. In fact, this was a problem shared with many of the characters. The story has so many interlinking subplots that many of the key players – Charlotte, Ward, Lord Fintan, Sebastian, Oliver – get a bit lost in the final act, leaving their stories unresolved. The new characters who are introduced in this book also failed to make an impression. The plot thread concerning the new head of staff, for example, was just shoehorned in and ultimately did not affect much.

So anyway, if you enjoyed Secrets and Sapphires or are a fan of the likes of Downton Abbey, chances are you will also enjoy Diamonds and Deceit. While it had a lot of issues, especially in the plotting, I did feel that it was a bit more engaging than the first instalment. While it still does not really appeal to me, perhaps I will take a look at the final instalment at some point to see how everything ties up.

Diamonds and Deceit can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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