Monday, December 30, 2013

Review: Glittering Promises by Lisa T. Bergren

Glittering Promises (The Grand Tour #3)
By: Lisa T. Bergren
Publisher: David C Cook
ISBN: 978-1-4347-6428-7


As Wallace Kensington's rags-to-riches copper heiress, Cora has quite unwillingly captured the imagination of the newspaper-reading public. And as the latest celebrity du jour to take in the delights of the famed Grand Tour, she's become the target of fortune-hunting kidnappers, endangering both her and her siblings and traveling companions. Joined on the remainder of the tour by her estranged biological father, Cora is torn -- determined to use the opportunities afforded by her new birthright to become her own woman, yet struggling with resenting Wallace Kensington's powerful sway over her life and future.

Freshly committed to a romantic relationship with Will, the group's young tour guide, Cora struggles to shed the ever-persistant nobleman Pierre's hope that his adoration is the support she truly needs to successfully navigate her new life of privilege. When Wallace unexpectedly gifts Cora with a sizeable inheritance and controlling interest in the mine discovered on her parents' land, the now-tangible wealth and its attendant responsibilities threaten to upset the fragile balance of Cora's newfound familial and romantic relationships. As the tour continues despite the group's brush with danger and unwanted publicity, threats once thought escaped forever resurface, and tensions within the group threaten to destroy newly-formed bonds. At the center of this maelstrom, Cora must decide once and for all the type of woman she's called to be, but over the cacophony of wealth, danger, and fear, will she be able to hear the still small voice of the One who longs to establish her life and identity on a bedrock of eternal truths?

Glittering Promises, the third novel in Lisa Bergren's Grand Tour series, brings Cora's tour -- and search for a lasting spiritual identity -- full circle in a dramatic fashion. Through the first two installments I've grown to love Bergren's glimpse into a colorful, lush world and way of life lost to time. Both Glamorous Illusions and Grave Consequences are masterful chronicles of the time period and an engaging, in-depth character study of one woman's journey toward emotional and spiritual wholeness. But as a conclusion to Cora's ambitious storyline, Glittering Promises leaves me torn.

Glittering Promises is every bit as richly-told as as its predecessors. Bergren is a master wordsmith and her ability to bring a time and place to life on the page in vibrant color is unparalleled. Cora's journey is, in short, an immersive experience and over the course of these three novels I feel as though the privilege, wonder, and transformative intent of such a tour has been brought to life on the page in a near-tangible manner. For those in search of rich, meaty historicals replete with detail and related in technicolor-prose, this trilogy is a must-read. Bergren has brought to life the wealth, power, and social tensions of the turn-of-the-century upper class with aplomb. And for those craving Downton Abbey-esque fiction, Cora's story shines in a sea of pale copies who seek to glitter but whose tales all too often lack the spark that brings a world of this type to vibrant life.

However, as a conclusion to Cora's romantic -- and personal -- journey, I must confess to being much less satisfied. On balance Cora remains one of the most likeable and relatable heroines found in fiction of this ilk, but by this, the third act of her coming of age, my patience with her oft-times headstrong nature wore thin. I can certainly understand being rocked to the core by the revelation of her true parentage, but her insistence on always thinking the worst of Wallace, of being so sure she knew best, was frankly irksome -- and given his character arc, tragic. And while she would certainly be entitled to struggle with fear, uncertainty, and questions, especially given the nature of the dangers she's faced, her repeated, blatant disregard for others' feelings (SPOILER: i.e., abandoning her siblings following their father's death) or instructions (i.e., abandoning the safety of a tour group to sulk, thereby making herself vulnerable to attack) smacked of a spoiled, emotional immaturity at odds with everything I'd come to love about the character in the previous two books.

And then there is the matter of her two would-be suitors. While I can appreciate Will having some qualms about Cora's insta-wealth, especially given the social expectations of the time casting men as the breadwinners of their families, he goes from being relatively competent and supportive to a neurotic, overly-possessive "romantic" interest. His trust issues, his continued refusal to take Cora at her word that she was through with Pierre were grating, troubling character changes that soured some of the sweetness that characterized the early days of their romance (SPOILER: and honestly made me wish they'd waited two or three years to marry and hopefully GROW UP first instead of marrying aboard ship en route home). And Pierre...apparently everything I'd understood about the character in two full books was a lie, as here is disturbingly unbalanced. That is a bait-and-switch I'll never understand -- I understand the need to resolve a love triangle, but having Pierre step aside in a gentleman-like fashion (and thus pave the way for his own happily ever after) would've  been much preferred to this new, and plainly unhinged version.

As the capstone to the story of a young woman's coming of age in extraordinary circumstances, Glittering Promises -- and indeed the Grand Tour series as a whole -- are a reading experience not to be missed. Using the time-honored Grand Tour as the vehicle for Cora's inner and outer transformation, Bergren has proven herself to be a master wordsmith, capable of crafting some of the most evocative and assured historical fiction I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The "travelogue" portion of this novel is something to savor, married to a well-meted spiritual thread that never overwhelms the narrative and feels wholly organic to the time and characters. While I have to wonder if I'd have been more satisfied with Cora and the resolution to her romance if it had only spanned two novels instead of three, I must applaud Bergren for her achievement here -- this is a gorgeously-rendered, thought-provoking trilogy, a classic coming-of-age tale with contemporary appeal and lasting spiritual truths couched in beautifully-realized, evocative snapshot of a compelling historical time. I cannot wait to see where she takes readers next!

About the book:

Wealth cannot buy peace...or direction.

For Cora Kensington, the Grand Tour was to be the trip of a lifetime. She discovered the family she never knew she had and may have even found the love she longs for in Will. Yet her life has just become infinitely more challenging...

Hounded by the stubborn pursuit of Pierre de Richelieu and journalists chasing the beguiling story of the newest American heiress, Cora fights to remain true to her past, reconcile her present, and still embrace her future. But as Will struggles with her newfound wealth, Cora begins to wonder if their love is strong enough to withstand all that threatens to pull them apart.

As she glimpses the end of the tour, Cora knows it's time to decide Who and what defines her...and who and what does not.

*My thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the tour opportunity, and my apologies to Litfuse and the author for being SO LATE with this review (I think it was due in November??). Click here to read what others had to say about Glittering Promises.


Rissi said...

SO pleased you ended up enjoying this one, too, Ruth. :) It was a grand way to end the series.

Unknown said...

@Rissi - I'm just sorry it took me so long TO finish it. But that's been the theme of least perseverance pays off! ;)