Sunday, April 17, 2011
Review: A RACE TO SPLENDOR by Ciji Ware
Ciji Ware sets off seismic waves of her own in A Race to Splendor, an earth-shaking triumph of a novel about a woman architect battling the male establishment in San Francisco in the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake.
Amelia Hunter Bradshaw returns from completing her architect degree in Paris to find her drunken, irresponsible father has gambled away the Bay View Hotel, which her deceased grandfather left to her. To add insult to injury, her father lost the hotel to the disreputable J.D. Thayer, a card cheat and dealer in prostitution, a friend of shady businessmen, and a man who openly flaunts his Chinese mistress. And the courts, which uphold the condescending patriarchial view that logical men must administer flighty women's property, uphold her father's actions.
Although Amelia despises J.D, work together they must to rebuild the Bay View Hotel from scratch in the construction frenzy after the earthquake's devastation. In the process, each discovers the other may not be quite what he or she appears.
From the graft-taking city officials and the venal wealthy businessmen who run the town, to the poor abused Chinese and Italian immigrants, Ms. Ware's cast of realistic supporting characters enriches the many layers in this book. Last, but not least, is the City of San Francisco itself, which Ms. Ware has lovingly described in all its historical and physical grandeur, encompassing both the good and the bad.
In Amelia and J.D., Ms. Ware has created a Darcy and Elizabeth for the early twentieth century. Amelia fights against the male-dominated world that treats women as children whom men must protect, but often abuse. And a woman doing a man's job is an abomination. While J.D. needs and admires Amelia as both an architect and a woman, he nevertheless believes he is just as right in his patronizing views as she is. These two strong personalities lock horns in a titanic struggle that causes the pages to melt away.
I adored this book. Ms. Ware writes the kind of stories I like: historicals with women doing so-called men's jobs who take on the male-dominated world and win, and heroes who like these heroines precisely because they are the way they are. After reading A Race to Splendor, I ran out and bought Ms. Ware's Island of the Swans, Wicked Company and A Cottage by the Sea. Am I going to have a good time.
Thank you all,
ARC provided by Sourcebooks