Sovay by Celia Rees
|Sovay by Celia Rees|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A romantic adventure set in England and France against the backdrop of the French Revolution. The characters are strong and the historical setting is knowledgable and accurate, but the narrative gets a little lost in choosing between romance and Da Vinci Code conspiracies.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 416||Date: June 2008|
Sovay isn't a typical late eighteenth century girl. She's headstrong and independently minded and this attitude has been fostered by her father, a forward-thinking landowner who has improved conditions for his tenants and workers and whose political sympathies lie towards the nascent French Revolution. These ideas do not make him popular and he comes to the attention of the arch-spymaster Robert Dysart. When he and her brother both disappear, it's time for Sovay to act.
The first time she donned highwayman's gear, it was to take revenge on an unfaithful lover. This time, Sovay's cause is far more important. She must save not only her father and brother, but also England - under threat from the sinister plotting of Dysart and his shady affiliates. She will need the help of her trusty steward Gabriel, her fellow highwayman Captain Greenwood and Virgil Barrett, an American spy.
So we go from rural England, to London and to Paris, at a time of political upheaval and public panic. The French Revolution was a dramatic affair. Absolute monarchy collapsed and the King and Queen were executed, but factions within the revolution itself led to anarchy in Robespierre's reign of terror. The effect on English society was huge. The aristocracy was in panic, political reform movements sprang up and the government suspended habeas corpus. Sovay is absolutely excellent in its vivid portrayal of this time. The historical background is rich and detailed, but woven seamlessly into the narrative, so that you never feel it's a history lesson.
The characterisation is also great. Everyone is multi-layered with internal dilemmas - except perhaps Dysart, the villain, who is rather a cardboard cut out. But we don't mind that - he's a villain! Even Sovay herself, a possibly anachronistic figure, as a strong woman at a time when women were rarely associated with public life, seems believable within the framework of the historical situation. She's strong and determined, but she is, essentially, feminine, despite the gun shooting and horse galloping.
I really wanted to like Sovay, and I did, partly. The female highwayman as spurned lover inspiration comes from a traditional ballad. I like the idea of making old things new. However, the narrative itself is a romantic adventure, but it tries to include so much, sometimes it all feels a bit too much. We have the female figure in a male-dominated time strand, the rescuing relatives strand, the love story strand, and we even have a Da Vinci Code secret society plot to take over the world strand. This last is what did it for me. It was just one aspect too many. I didn't need Dysart to be an Illuminati alchemist. If he'd just stayed a nasty manipulative spymaster, intent on clamping down revolutionary fervour by any means necessary, the book would have benefited. As it was, I was made to suspend belief too many times for a truly satisfying read.
Sovay has a lot going for it - great historical background, strong characterisation, a flowing and easy style. But for me, the secret society stuff let it down. It will appeal most to the fan of conspiracy theory and to those who want adventure by any means.
My thanks to the nice people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.
The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan also features a female highwayman and is also based on a poem - this time one by Alfred Noyes.
You can read more book reviews or buy Sovay by Celia Rees at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Sovay by Celia Rees at Amazon.com.
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