By Celia Rees
Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Reviewed by Heather F.
It’s England, 1783. When the rich and beautiful Sovay is not 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 is not just her own identity she must hide, but that of her father. Sovay is a dazzling historical saga in which the roles of thieves and gentry, good and bad, and men and women are interchanged to riveting effect.
I am sure it is fairly well known around here how much I enjoy Young Adult fiction. It isn’t SO TERRIBLY long ago that I was a young adult myself. (I would hope that technically I am young!) And, even though it hasn’t been that long (really, it hasn’t! I swear!) I can see some big changes in the genre. One of the most noticeable is the evolution of strong, independent, intelligent female characters. Of course, I may have been reading the wrong books back then, but that's neither here nor there. Sovay is no exception in the trend of strong female characters.
Sovay is based on an old folksong of the same name:
Sovay, Sovay all on a day
She dressed herself in man’s array
With a sword and a pistol all by her side
To meet her true love to meet her true love away did ride.
And as she was a-riding over the plain
She met her true love and bid him stand
Your gold and silver kind sir she said
Or else this moment or else this moment your life I’ll have.
And when she’d robbed him of his store
She says kind sir there is one thing more
A golden ring which I know you have
Deliver it deliver it your sweet life to save.
Oh that golden ring a token is
My life I’ll lose the ring I’ll save.
Being tender-hearted just like a dove
She rode away she rode away from her true love.
Oh next morning in the garden green
Just like true lovers they were seen
Oh he spied his watch hanging by her clothes
And it made him blush made him blush like any rose.
Oh what makes you blush at so silly a thing
I thought to have had your golden ring
It was I that robbed you all on the plain
So here’s your watch here’s your watch and your gold again.
I did intend and it was to know
If that you were me true love or no
For if you’d have give me that ring she said
I’d have pulled the trigger I’d have pulled the trigger and shot you dead.
As you can imagine from that colorful song, the book is just as colorful. I greatly enjoyed this romp through 1794 England and France. Rees takes the reader skillfully through the height of the French Revolution and brings new clarity, for me anyway, about just how terrifying those days were for the guilty as well as the innocent. The threat of prison, the horror of prison, the eventual trip to the guillotine was all made more real to me than I can remember before. There is plenty of adventure, a little romance, and the love of family and country. The ending wrapped up just a little too neatly for me; there were a few loose strings, but I’ll forgive Rees that. This was a highly enjoyable character and read. If you have read Rees before (I've read Witch Child and enjoyed it) you will enjoy this one as well. I definitely recommend.
From looking around at other websites, it looks as though this book is marketed for 12-years-old and up. I'm not exactly sure I agree with that. There are prostitutes involved, but more specifically, there are young BOY prostitutes. There is no explicit sex scenes or anything, but it is made clear that they are boys and that they are there for men. I know I wouldn't know how to begin explaining that to my daughter, nor do I think I would want to at so young an age. I would feel more comfortable if she were a little older than that. But that is just my opinion. Of course, she's only 4 right now, I would evaluate her maturity level regardless of her age.
Sovay has already been released in the UK, but will not be released to the US until August 19th. You can read more about Sovay and Celia Rees at her website.