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 tragically dies young, Amy is devastated. But Aurelia leaves Amy one last gift.
A bundle of letters with a coded key. A treasure hunt that only Amy can follow. A life-changing discovery awaits... if only she can unlock the secret.
Amy Snow is the debut book from Tracy Rees who was the winner of the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition. In the past I have found some of Richard and Judy's selections can be quite hit and miss but in this read they have found a talented author with heaps of potential. This first book is really only a taster of what Tracy Rees has in store for us over the coming years in her writing career. At over 550 pages long the book is huge in terms of scope and ambition and in the beginning I was wondering would the author be able to pull it all off? Will the strands of the story all come together or has she taken on too much? I am pleased to report Tracy has done a fantastic job of turning a simple idea into a real gem of a novel, having a treasure trail at the centre added real depth to the story and helped the book and its themes come full circle. Normally I don't mention much about the cover of a book in reviews, yes when book covers are released on Twitter I may comment but in the case of Amy Snow this cover instantly had my attention. I wanted to know who the girl was, what was she running from and where was she going? All these questions and more were answered during an epic story which contained such beautiful heartfelt writing.
We open in January of 1831 as young Aurelia Vennaway living at Hatville Court discovers a naked baby girl abandoned in a drift of snow on the estate. Knowing she can't leave the baby to die she takes the infant back to the house. So begins the life of Amy Snow and soon we jump forward to 1848, Amy is 17 and Aurelia has just died. Admittedly I was disappointed as within the first chapter one of the main characters is dead. I wanted to read more about her. But to my relief my disappointment was short lived as the author has done an excellent job of portraying Aurelia through the letters interspersed throughout the novel and of course the wonderful characters she met as she travelled away from Hatville Court. Amy is now at a loss as to what to do, she has had a two sided upbringing in a way, shown great care, love and affection by Aurelia, yet despised by Lord and Lady Vennaway. She is neither here nor there in terms of her place in society in spite of the long lasting connection she had established with Aurelia. My heart went out to Amy to lose everything you have known so suddenly - your home and your best friend. The author does a great job of describing Amy's childhood and time spent at the estate and the reader feels great sympathy for the situation she now finds herself in especially at such a time of change in the country with the advent of the railway and Queen Victoria newly installed on the throne. I did find the first part quite slow, the story took it's time warming up and getting going but once Amy began her proper travels I was lost in the story and just had to keep turning the pages.
Aurelia sends Amy upon a quest just like the treasure trails she created when Amy was small. It was brave of her to embark upon such a task and it showed the true love she had for her friend venturing out into the unknown - a single lady travelling the country. At the time this was frowned upon but meeting two gentlemen will change her fortunes and make her question her heart for the first time. It was obvious Aurelia had something to hide, something that happened during her time spent away from Hatville Court. Normally I guess what is going on in a book and then it turns out I am wrong but in this case I guessed very early on what the secret was but in no way did it distract from my reading. In fact it made me appreciate all the more the mystery Tracy Rees had set out for us and Amy.
The next three parts of the book follow Amy as she discovers clues left by Aurelia and through these clues I felt we really got to know the inner Aurelia, the person who was different from the suppressed girl at home. It made me realise how much she valued Amy and this is a book where you can really see the character totally change. Not that Amy was flawed in the first place it just seemed like she was not yet the person she was destined to be. Not knowing her family she felt isolated and lost, like she was not worthy of society but through the people she meets we literally see a caterpillar transform into a butterfly with the help of Aurelia and her friends. This only proves how wise Aurelia was and how despite her illness she always put others before herself as was proved by her ultimate sacrifice.
The writing throughout this book was exquisite and you may not normally think that for a historical fiction book but Tracy Rees has done her research extremely well. I loved this description from Amy as she tells us of her fears living alone with the Vennaway's while Aurelia is travelling 'My heart is like a wild animal. It sleeps with one eye open, with a new wariness I feel will never go away'. There were numerous quotes I wanted to write down so I could reread and savour such fine writing. I had never read anything set in this time frame before and the author has evidently done plenty of research as I felt I was there right beside Amy as she journeyed throughout England. The scents and sounds of Twickenham, Bath and York were brought alive so well, the writing flowed seamlessly and was not laborious to read as some books in this genre can be. The reader wasn't overloaded with information instead the tone was just right.One thing which amazed me was some of the things which we undoubtedly take for granted today that were only just appearing in society at the time. The characters make a big deal of the railway (if only they could see it now), the new fashions and Charles Dickens. He is only publishing books at this time and they eagerly await each new release like we do now for our favourite authors. Amy's enthusiasm was infectious and I loved how we saw her acceptance into society despite her unknown background.
This is an established debut full of twists and turns, mystery, suspense and a dash of love and romance thrown in. Despite a slow start I soon fell in love with Amy and Aurelia. It was a novel of transformation and change as we see Amy emerge into the person she was destined to be. All the storylines were tied up nicely as I was fearful that a certain one would be left dangling and that would have annoyed me but thankfully Tracy did the right thing. The complex treasure trail kept me hooked and entertained throughout and with the close of the final page I was sad to leave such convincing genuine characters behind. Hopefully we won't have too long to wait for book number two from this exciting new author which I am delighted to have discovered.