While it isn’t my favourite genre, I do enjoy a well written historical novel and when I saw this had won the Richard and July ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition, I was curious to see if I agreed with the Madleys.
Abandoned on a bank of snow as a baby, Amy is taken in at nearby Hatville Court. But the masters and servants of the grand estate prove cold and unwelcoming. Amy’s only friend and ally is the sparkling young heiress Aurelia Vennaway. So when Aurelia dies young, Amy is devastated. But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift.
This is a really interesting book. Those of you who recall Cecelia Ahern’s book PS, I Love You will have a basic idea of the overarching plot. But there are some important differences. Amy is very dependent on Aurelia as everyone else at Hatville Court remains hostile towards her and once Aurelia dies, as well as being grief-stricken, Amy is vulnerable in a world where young women have very few opportunities for earning their own living.
Because the book is in Amy’s viewpoint, apart from a couple of short interludes, the character at the centre of the book who drives the narrative action – Aurelia – is filtered through her eyes. So we get a fascinating portrait of a highly strung, vibrant and intelligent young woman facing an inevitable early death while also trying to break out of the confines of a society with rigid expectations of what she must do. It is a poignant glimpse at a life cut short. Rees could have allowed this to collapse into a sentimental mess whereby Aurelia is portrayed as a complete victim and everyone speaks of her with tears in their eyes. Which would have been okay, I suppose. But Amy is totally reliant on Aurelia for any crumb of affection in a household where she is otherwise barely tolerated, so when her benefactress disappears for an unexpectedly long time, leaving her stranded at Hatville Court as a young teenager, she feels angry and betrayed.
These feelings are inevitably complicated by the knowledge that Aurelia is dying, and once she has gone and Amy flees Hatville Court, she still has very mixed feelings about the lost year when Aurelia dropped out of her life. And when she finds herself following a trail of letters arranged by Aurelia for her before she died, Amy embarks on this quest still conflicted.
It makes for a fascinating read and while there is the inevitable romance accompanying her adventures, the boy-meets-girl isn’t the storyline that powers the novel. And once Amy’s story appears to be resolved, as far as it can go, there is an unexpected twist at the end, which I really enjoyed – as a reader it gave me answers I needed, as well as a sense of sadness that the person who really needed to know this information would never learn it. Nicely done.
If you like your historical heroines to be doing more than spending time fluttering their eyelashes at some eligible dandy over a fan, then track this down. It’s a memorable read for all the right reasons.