|Returning to her Tudor-era theme, D.L. Bogdan addresses England's many religious issues during Henry VIII's reign of terror in The Sumerton Women. A novel that abounds with strife and strong, clashing temperaments, The Sumerton Women reveals Bodgan's background in history with its textured layers of detail though it falls short in character development.
Orphaned and made a baroness at the age of eight due to the dreaded sweating sickness, Lady Cecily Burkhart becomes the ward of Lord Hal Pierce, the Earl of Sumerton. She's brought to Sumerton Palace by Father Alec Cahill, tutor, priest, and secret reformist, who becomes beloved to her immediately.
Cecily assimilates quickly, and the Pierces happily accept her into the family. When Cecily becomes engaged to the Sumerton heir, Brey, at the age of nine, she is thrown but adjusts to this bump in her road. But the Tudor era was not a peaceful one and the Pierce family, though not full of secrets, is teeming with issues: Lady Grace, the Countess, with her drinking problem; Lord Hal has his gambling; and there is sister Mirabella, who wishes in truth to become a nun in the hopes of easing all of the passions—earthly and sacred—that she cannot handle.
Into this viper's nest is thrown a great deal of tragedy, and the Pierce family is allowed little recuperation time from one incident to the next. As the religious temperature rises and falls in England, as a household that varies from one end of the Catholic vs. Reform spectrum to the other, their very beliefs could bring about the ultimate tragedy: the end of the Pierce line.
The rich details in The Sumerton Women and the fanaticism that is handled in a very politically correct fashion save this novel from being boring. Unfortunately for the masses at the time, one expects a lot of sad things to befall a Tudor-era family, and the author does not instill a great deal of grief into her characters, anymore than she instills a great deal of dimensionality. Frankly, the characters are actually just roles, without any real personality: there is very clearly a drunk, a good girl, a gambler, a golden boy, a traitor, and the tormented priest. More often than not, that is all that one sees of these characters.
Those of you who are fans of historical romances likely won't enjoy this one, unless you specifically like reading about the Tudor era. Fans of historical fiction, however, should get much out of it with the author's care for detail and the addressing of a political situation that is often overshadowed by King Henry's predilection for the disposal of his wives.