A Race to Splendor

A Race to Splendor
Ciji Ware
Sourcebooks, 2011

The cover of this one caught my attention immediately. That is a gorgeous dress. Like, seriously. gorgeous. And then, Laura's Reviews hosted Ciji Ware for a guest post and giveaway, and I realized I had to read A Race to Splendor. (Happily, I won the giveaway!)

This is one of those involving stories that just keeps evolving. Every time you think you have something figured out, there's a new twist: either a character reveals a little more of their personal secrets, or the plot shifts on you, or you just suddenly realize you'd been reading it all wrong. I loved getting to know Amelia as she struggled to overcome the massive curveballs and setbacks life hurled in her way following graduation from architecture and engineering school in Paris. A full-fledged architect, Amelia faces not only the 'normal' struggles of a being a woman in a man's world, but this is San Fransisco in 1906. The Earthquake and Fire that destroyed much of the city - and also gave it new life. Then too, there's the small detail of her father gambling away her rightful inheritance - the Bay View Hotel - and her ongoing 'battle' with the new owner JD Thayer. It's a complicated story, but Ware has detailed it beautifully.

This is the kind of historical fiction that gives historical fiction a good name: very researched, very detailed. Ware didn't just skim the surface, she got down into the heart of the history - researching and writing not just the aftermath of the Earthquake, but also the 'inner-workings' of San Fransisco: the corruption, the day-to-day struggles, the people. I absolutely loved the characters. Every one was well-developed and real. They read like living people, with secrets and pasts and a mix of good and bad - some with more bad, some with more good. They're flawed, but they're human. Their relationships feel authentic and believable, taking what could have been a dull, dusty novel and making it a living story. If this is the way Ware's novels always read, I'm definitely going to be looking for more of them.

Book provided by my personal library.


  1. Congrats on winning the giveaway. I've heard good things about Ware's books. I'm going to have to give them a try. This review is wonderful. This sounds like a good book to start with!

  2. I agree that the cover would have caught my eye too. It's gorgeous! Glad to hear the contents were just as good!