May Thomas, traveling with her brother, leaves her Barbados home to make a new life for herself. Her passion for automobiles lands her a job as secretary and driver to Sir Philip Blunt. Here, she glimpses life in the upper echelon of British society. May is young, headstrong, and talented. Despite a secret he keeps from those close to her, she is willing to let love in.
Evangeline Nettlefold is an American from Baltimore gone to stay with her godmother, Lady Joan Blunt. She is friends with Wallis Simpson, the woman who stole the kings heart. Evangeline is a sad, jealous, bitter woman. She is a flawed individual, making her a times likeable and, at other times, detestable.
Julian Richardson is a well-off young man with an Oxford education. An idealist, the poverty surrounding his luxurious life troubles him. He takes an interest in May, who is frank and insightful when discussing the poorer people of the country. As his political opinions strengthen and his infatuation deepens, he can no longer ignore how he feels.
The historical aspect of the abdication of King Edward VIII is merely a backdrop to the story. Wallis Simpson is a part of the story as a supporting character, as Evangeline’s friend. The looming threat of war is featured in the same capacity. It is a backdrop to the human drama. This backdrop is, however, very well described. Juliet Nicolson is a very talented writer in this regard. London comes to life. Depth is lacking, however, when it comes to the main characters themselves. Julian in particular. We spend more time with May and Evangeline, and learn more about them but still a deep connection never really happened for me. Julian gets less screen-time, if you will, and so a connection with him is even more elusive. Another problem for me was pacing. Events seem to just chug along by mid-book. The story moved too slowly, and I found myself waiting for something to actually happen. Things pick up again towards the end, thankfully.
While Abdication has its problems, it is overall a well written novel. As it is well researched, it is insightful in a historical context. We get a good sense of this period in time.On the character level, though, it just isn’t very deep.
[I received this book through Goodreads' First Reads giveaway.]