Splendor is the fourth and final novel in the Luxe series by Anna Godbersen. Set among the upper classes of New York at the turn of the twentieth century, it follows four young women as they make their first steps into an adult life, full of passion, heartbreak and backstabbing.
In book number three, Envy, we saw Elizabeth Holland marry Snowdon Cairns to avoid disgrace; her sister Diana was determined to follow her love Henry Schoonmaker when he enlisted in the army to escape the wife he loathes, Penelope Hayes; and Carolina Broud finally got her dream of untold riches.
The series, including Splendor, is very much about the characters. The setting, both time and place, is very important to the story, but although the time is perfectly evoked with descriptions of clothes and details of the strict social rules of the period, the setting of New York is underused. The city could be as much of a character as the people in a story like this, but a lot of the time it just happens to be the place where events are taking place.
In Splendor, we finally get to see what will become of these four young women we have been following for four books. Although I was a bit underwhelmed by The Luxe, the first book in the series, I became steadily more attached to the girls, and more hooked on the story.
Elizabeth was the dull one at first, but revealed hidden depths when she ran off to California with Will, the Holland family driver. Now in Splendor she is married to her father’s friend Snowden Cairns, but although they are affectionate it is a marriage in name. When Elizabeth finds a strange clue about her father’s death, she finds herself in danger. However, although she is in a perilous situation and I wanted to find how things would turn out for her, Elizabeth’s sections of the book were a bit dull, with not much happening. True to form, she had been a meek and dutiful woman and got herself a bit stuck.
The other Holland sister, Diana, is a much more lively character. When the novel opens we find her in Cuba, on Henry’s trail so they can be reunited. Diana has big dreams and cares little for the social constraints that her older sister lives her life by. Out of the four main characters, Diana was the one I cared about most; I really wanted her to get her happy ending, even if that meant she ended up with the rather pathetic Henry. Diana is the youngest of the four girls at seventeen years old in Splendor, and her youth combined with her positivity and determination make her a very engaging character.
Penelope is the villain of the piece. She cajoled Henry into marrying her so she wouldn’t reveal his romance with Diana, which had stepped far over the boundaries acceptable for a young woman of her class.But now that Penelope has Henry, she doesn’t really want him – she just wants to be Mrs Schoonmaker. In Splendor her head is turned by a visiting European prince, and she begins to wonder if maybe she set her sights too low when she married Henry. Penelope has never been a likeable character; she is the kind of nasty person that makes you want to shout at the other characters so they are not taken in by her false charms. She has always been interesting though – always up to something, with at least one evil plot on the go at any given time. In Splendor however, she is bored. And as suching. Even once she meets the prince her sections of the book remain a little dull. The big question for fans of the series, however, is does she get her comeuppance? That would be far too much of a spoiler…
Finally, Carolina who began the series as Elizabeth’s maid is now very wealthy, and feels the world is at her feet. She even falls in love, and is loved in return. But Carolina has been telling lies about her background for a long time, and one thing which is clear through Splendor is that they are really piling up and starting to weigh very heavily on her. Although not quite in the realms of Penelope, Carolina is a not character that you want to root for. I found her personality to be a bit unpleasant from the beginning, and I have never wanted her to realise her dreams. On the other hand, Tristan resurfaces in Splendor, the rather unsavoury shop assistant who knows all Carolina’s secrets, and set alongside him, Carolina comes across as eminently likeable. Tristan’s presence meant that for the first time I wanted Carolina to get her happy ending, as it would mean he had lost.
So, the endings. I’m certainly not going to say what happens, but I will say that there is one happy ending, and the other three are rather more ambiguous, more open. The reader is really left to come to their own conclusions as to what will happen to the characters. I wasn’t happy with this open-ended conclusion when I finished the book, but as I reflect on it now, I am happy with how things ended. One ending in particular points to a happier future, as well as righting a wrong.
Splendor is an enjoyable and fitting conclusion to a series I have enjoyed more with each book, and I am sorry that this is the last installment in The Luxe. Although aimed mainly at young adult readers, this series would be enjoyed by anyone looking for a light read.
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