3 out of 4 stars
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Sarah Richards is a fourteen-year-old South Carolinian with an inquisitive mind and bold ideas. Unfortunately, she is in the wrong place at the wrong time. For starters, the year is 1795, so few people appreciate her "unladylike" thoughts and interests. Society imposes a clear path on women such as Sarah, leaving no room for deviations. Right now, however, she has a far more pressing concern: surviving. What was supposed to be a fun trip to visit her cousins in Haiti quickly turns into an absolute nightmare due to a slave uprising. During the chaos, Louis Hebert, Sarah's grandfather and wealthy plantation owner, is trying to hide the invaluable Russian coronation crown he had managed to obtain. These unforeseeable events are about to change the girl's fate forever.
Nancy Rogers' The Empress' Diamond is a historical fiction novel loosely inspired by the real Sarah Richards Vaux. Though the story starts as a harrowing survival tale, most of the book follows Sarah's life in the South Carolinian high society until her past comes to haunt her again during the final chapters. While this shift could disappoint readers hoping for an action-packed book from beginning to end, it offers a unique perspective on how traumatic experiences affect people even after returning to normalcy. After all, you might leave your past behind, but your past never leaves you.
As the plot's driving force, Sarah is a great protagonist who struggles with various conflicts and contradictions. Her experiences in Haiti revealed her true strength and reinforced the notion that women can stand as men's equals, but they also cursed her with nightmares and guilt, especially due to a horrific secret she couldn't tell anyone about. While Sarah is the most well-written character and the book's best aspect in general, I was also pleasantly surprised by Sarah's mother, Elisabeth.
At first, Elisabeth seems to be more concerned about tradition and keeping up appearances than her daughter's happiness, failing to understand Sarah's trauma and to help her deal with it. Behind this facade, however, lies a genuinely loving and compassionate individual who proves to be a trustworthy ally in hours of need. Her strict demeanor and somewhat narrow outlook on life are simply products of the times.
The book provides engaging descriptions of beautiful natural sights and opulent environments that transport the reader into the world of eighteenth-century southern elite men and women: "Chandeliers dripping with crystals adorned the serving tables, and along one wall, in between a series of French doors, were chandeliers the size of small trees. Ropes of crystals hung from the ceilings and crystals resembling hen's eggs held place cards and doubled as mementos." It also makes pointed, witty remarks towards elitist values and lifestyles: "They weren't the most trusting lot, and they had long memories and even longer noses, which they were exceedingly good at looking down."
The Empress' Diamond is a great historical drama peppered with a few exciting bits of adventure. Readers interested in depictions of early feminism and progressive ideas should find the novel particularly enjoyable. Unfortunately, the manuscript I have read contains many grammatical and typographical errors, especially extraneous commas. I don't know if these issues carry over to the Kindle or paperback editions, but I can only review the book based on my reading experience. Thus, my final rating is 3 out of 4 stars.
The Empress’ Diamond
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