A Race to Splendor by Ciji Ware
Paperback, 544 pages
April 1, 2011
Genre: Historical Fiction
Source: Borrowed from my local library
“Set in the tumultuous aftermath of San Francisco’s devastating 1906 earthquake and fire, and based on the lives of several women apprenticed to famed Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed woman architect, this historical novel tells of the fiercely-fought competition between Nob Hill hotels to re-open their doors by the first anniversary of the disaster – proving to the country and the world that the city would rise from the ashes. Amelia Hunter Bradshaw, fresh from earning her certificate in architecture at the prestigious L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, finds herself, through a series of flukes and mishaps, in the employ of the one man determined to best Miss Morgan, Amelia’s mentoress and friend. Intrigue, political corruption, and an undeniable attraction to the mysterious James Diaz Thayer threaten not only to jeopardize her personal life, but also prove fatal to all she holds dear.”While the previous book I read about the 1906 earthquake took place in the days prior to and during the trembler, A Race to Splendor takes place during the quake and the next year afterward as the city starts rebuilding. You get a unique perspective of what it was like to be a refugee after this disaster – in the Presidio make-shift hospital as well as trying to find somewhere to live amongst all the crumbled buildings. Most of the plot focuses on the competition between the Fairmont and the Bay View hotels to be the first hotel to open after the extensive damage from the quake. You learn a lot about architecture and all of the problems that go along with trying to rebuild in a city knee deep in graft – pay-offs, deals, shanghaied workers, the outrage over a Chinese workforce, and other types of corruption.
Ware’s characters are phenomenally written and solidly constructed. They all grow as the story continues – not necessarily changing who they are but blossoming into a different version of themselves. The author has created full back stories for the main cast and we learn why they are how they are now and understand the decisions that they make. We see characters that are flawed, admirable, and real. For me, the writing of the characters was the strongest part of the novel.
I also loved how the story and events developed and unfolded. You didn’t really know what was going to happen next – but the decisions made sense to the plot and to the pace of the story. There were also romance threads throughout the novel – it certainly kept things interesting. It was also most interesting to see the interplay between the two characters and how the romance affected the rest of the plot of the book.
Overall I absolutely loved this book and cannot wait to read others by this author.
Author Ciji Ware also has written five other novels: Island of the Swans, A Cottage By the Sea, Wicked Company, Midnight on Julia Street and A Light on the Veranda. You can visit her website or blog for additional information about these books. If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book?
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