The witch was born a wimp, so can’t exactly nod in recognition when reading Sovay, the new book by Celia Rees. This adventurous 17-year-old girl gets up to many things, starting as a highwayman and ending up in Paris soon after the French Revolution. It’s rather like The Red Necklace in reverse.

This is an exciting story, mixing some early feminism with a history lesson or two, and topping it with some romance. Though I do have something to say about Sovay’s love life. The girl can’t make her mind up, and I had time to marry her off to at least four likely males before the end of the book. The drawback to being brave and beautiful, I suppose, so nothing I’ll ever know anything about.


There appears to have been a lot of funny business going on in London in 1794, which I wasn’t aware of before. I’m not convinced that even young female highwaymen should know so much about brothels as Sovay does. And I know this is fiction, but there does seem to be more coincidences in this story than is plausible.

But still, a great adventure for fans of Celia Rees. Keep them coming!


16 responses to “Sovay

  1. thanks for the review. I just finished the book and was disappointed. I loved the book till she got to London and didn’t think that her exposure to the seamier side of London was realistic–she wasn’t surprised and seemed to already know about men dressed as women, men desiring men, etc. And I really didn’t like the inference that her brother and Gabriel were more than just friends. Not really suitable for a 12 and up book. Overall, I thought Sovay was too worldy for someone who had grown up in the country, protected and wealthy. The story went too fast, had too much going on and too many loose ends. also a lot of French words I didn’t know (I’m American so maybe that’s my problem!)

    I read a pre-pub copy so maybe some of those issues were addressed.

  2. You put that very well, Dawn, and I agree with most of it. Thinking about some of Celia’s other historical books, I’d say that all her heroines are more advanced in the modern way than is perhaps realistic, but in Sovay there was rather more of everything.

  3. Can’t please ’em all, eh? In defence, I have to say that Sovay is a heroine of her time, as well as our own. Although she is brought up in the country, privileged and wealthy, but she is brought up on a working farm, has a worldly young woman as a confidante. Her father is a free thinker and she has an older brother. I had an older brother – a very useful source of information on all that might have been considered ‘unsuitable’. It is disingenuous to accuse me of being ‘unrealistic’ about places and events that are there in the historical record. I am very careful to provide a considered set of reasons as to why my characters find themselves in certain places and situations and reason that if this could happen to anyone, it could happen to them.
    I’m interested in the idea that the book is ‘unsuitable’ for 12+. Where would you put it? According to the age ranging principle, there should be no upper limit. does that mean it is unsuitable for everyone over the age of 12, or just 12 year olds? Who decides? I guess that, and the whiff of censorship, is why some of us are against age ranging.
    I write for teens, who expect a book to be fast paced. Loose ends? Show me where they are. An unresolved plot strand is not a ‘loose end’. I might be saving it up for a sequel. As for not knowing some of the words, most of them are explained if you read carefully enough. If not – look ’em up!

  4. Very nice to see you here, Celia. And it’s good that you defend your book. I suspect that what Dawn was saying about age is that some 12-year-olds should be protected from stuff like brothels. That’s the never-ending problem with sex in children’s books and the “responsible” adults.

    So, are we getting a sequel?

  5. Would that the rest of the media were as responsible in their attitudes as those who gate keep children’s books. A casual glance at most newspapers, magazines, rap songs, DVDs, Games, films… need I go on? It is a problem with writing for teenagers (most of my readers would not thank you for describing them as children) who, I’m sure, are quite aware of the existence of brothels, past and present, and have been alerted to the dangers of child prostitution by, er, other ‘children’s ‘books. Or is it OK to write about such things as long as it is inside the covers of an ‘issue’ book?

    As for a sequel? Maybe…

  6. As long as it’s a good book, I don’t mind what subjects a writer tackles. I do worry about the policing of children’s books (I will continue calling them that here, Celia, as not all books count as teen or YA) by “concerned” adults. There seems to be no stopping them.

    Of my reviewers aged 13 and 14, a surprising number find a book for 16 to 17 too old for them. And then others read adult books. But I feel the readers themselves can do the censoring, and give up on a book that is too old or too young for them.

  7. Pingback: Sovay by Celia Rees « A High and Hidden Place

  8. I haven’t read Sovay yet, so I can’t comment on the story, but I don’t like the cover art shown with High and Hidden’s review. Now there is unrealistic– a close up of a young women in modern makeup–eyeliner as well as lipstick. I wish they wouldn’t do that. As a reader, I feel patronized. I’m being treated like a dimwit who would be turned away by a more realistic image of an historical character. It mean Sovay starts, for me, in the category of “costume drama” and has to work it’s way up from there, which is unfortunate.

  9. I agree about the cover. It must be the US version, as I hadn’t seen it before. I have just added the UK cover image above, which I quite like.

  10. Being French, I was a bit annoyed at the bad French included in the book. For example “Le trone renverse” (I can’t do accents here) does not mean reversed throne but overturned (or toppled) throne.

  11. I don’t know French, so didn’t notice, but I know how annoying it is when people get language wrong. If you’re not sure, you can always ask someone. And it’s worth being self critical, so that you don’t automatically believe you can do it correctly.

  12. Sovay (no, really)

    Two days ago I walked into a Borders with my friends and one of them gasped and ran off, reappearing a moment later with your book, titled “Sovay.” My friend couldn’t believe it, she knew that I was named after an old english folk song but she had never heard of it. My parents came across the pentangle version of it and liked it so much I got named after it. I have to say that I quite enjoy having such a different name, everyone remembers me, and it gives me a sense of individuality.
    So when I saw the book titled with my name, of course I bought it that second and I have just finished it.
    It wasn’t bad, but I feel that I have been misrepresented. The Sovay the Reese wrote was strong, but sweet and kind and worried about others far more than herself. She didn’t fall through with her plans, and she really wasn’t all that rebellious, mostly she was just trying to help out, although she more often than not got in the way, and she wasn’t all that intelligent and she didn’t think through anything that she did… She was just a kind, stubborn, reckless teen.
    Did you know that Sovay means wisdom?
    The Sovay that was portrayed in the song would have shot James the second he handed over the ring. Most likely she wouldn’t have been with James, and that test would have been for Jake Greenwood, whom she probably would have chosen to marry regardless of his choice of trade in life. I just thought that the Sovay in the book was far to innocent and childish and honest. She was actually trusting. The entire point of the song I was named after is that this Sovay can’t even trust the man she is in love with. If your going to name a character Sovay, you need to make her a true Sovay. Rees’ main character would have made a better Sophia or Silvia… A softer name for a soft character. Sovay is a harsher version of a name, I just wish that she hadn’t named her character Sovay, she didn’t even follow the song at all, and then she didn’t leave Sovay with her fellow highwayman. Why didn’t Sovay end up with Mr. Greenwood? It seemed like Leon was haphazardly thrown into the plot, and he had a low opinion of women from the start.
    (sighs) I normally am not such a harsh critique, but I feel jipped, and I know that the people I know are going to buy the book when they recognise my name, and then I will be compared to the Sovay in the story. I just sort of wish it was never written.

  13. Hi, Sovay! Well, that makes three of you; the song, the book’s heroine and you. Hope you are not the type to go round shooting your boyfriends? I liked Jake, too, and agree with you there. A man who will take you to a brothel and leave you there, is – different.

  14. Sovay (no, really)

    (smiles) actually, there are four of us. Sovay Berriman is an artist living in London who I found by googling my name. I emailed her to hear the story of her name, and she is quite a nice lady, although a good deal older than I. No, I am not the type to go around shooting my boyfriends, I too am not a very trusting individual, but I have less drastic methods of obtaining the truth from people 🙂

  15. I’m almost finished the book and it’s really good so far. They just got to….(spoiler removed by the witch)…… As for the French, as someone else commented above, even though I am American, I understand most of it, which is nice 🙂 I’m also writing a book of my own in this time period, and I just am inspired by the girl standing up for herself. It really shows that back then men underestimated women all the time. (well then again not all females were like Sovay 🙂 ) Even today you see some of that.
    I think Celia Rees is a great author. I haven’t read any other books by her yet, but I like that she took a traditional ballad and gave it a twist and a storyline to follow it up. And… I enjoy being odd, unknown characters for Halloween… (i mean, I way aayla secura last year before anyone knew who she was thanks to the Star Wars TV show) So I’m thinking of being Sovay. I don’t know. I just admire her character’s strength and independence.

  16. Reading Sovay, just put Celia Rees back on the top for me. Her writing is inspiring and very detailed, and she can make you imagine what the life is like by just reading one single paragraph.

    I enjoyed Sovay a lot, I figured out to me, that all of the plots story was where it needed to be.

    Celia Rees is most definitely one of my favorite authors, and I hope she keeps this great writing up !

    Thank you, very much.

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