by Celia Rees
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Reading level: YA
It’s England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay isn’t sitting for portraits, she’s donning a man’s cloak and robbing travelers—in broad daylight. But in a time when political allegiances between France and England are strained, a rogue bandit is not the only thing travelers fear. Spies abound, and rumors of sedition can quickly lead to disappearances. So when Sovay lifts the wallet of one of England’s most powerful and dangerous men, it’s not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father. A dazzling historical saga in which the roles of thieves and gentry, good and bad, and men and women are interchanged to riveting effect. (synopsis from Goodreads)
A while ago, frustrated by poorly written YA fare, I'd gone into a local children's bookstore and requested some suggestions for good YA fiction. Of the books recommended to me, I've since read and enjoyed two (Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis and Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi)... so I thought I'd really like Sovay. But one of these books is not like the others... and Sovay was a huge disappointment.
It still boggles my mind that this was recommended to someone who specifically asked for a well-written YA novel. It is not a well-written book, and I have no patience for authors who don't understand the basics of writing dialogue... especially when said author has been publishing books for almost two decades and should know better by now. Characters cannot shrug their speech; no matter how many times you write it, it doesn't make it any less ridiculous. The text was also filled with redundancies that were surely the result of a lack of editing and long passages of exposition that came across as the author showing off how much she knows about history.
I read over a hundred pages and just couldn't get into the story. Actually, I didn't buy much of the premise. Sovay is supposed to be this beautiful young woman that turns heads... and yet she's easily mistaken for a man when she puts on a pair of pants. (I thought perhaps this was because she wore a mask over her face, but she can't have done that all the time when she was robbing people because it took the townspeople a while to figure out that this mysterious "young man" was actually a highwayman. I'd have thought the mask would've been a bit of a giveaway.) The whole highwayman premise was poorly done as well. I don't find it believable that a genteel young woman such as Sovay would have developed a taste for robbing stagecoaches just for the heck of it.
So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish Sovay are as follows:
- bad writing
- too much telling, not enough showing
- seemingly endless (and boring) passages of exposition
- barely believable premise