Guided to change.
First Published: 9th April 2015
Date Reviewed: 8th October 2015
Aurelia, heiress to her parents’ fortune, finds a baby in the snow and takes her home. Her parents are furious but they love their daughter and give in to her pleas to keep the child. And so the girl grows up amongst the servants in the kitchen and later with Aurelia as a companion. Later, Aurelia becomes sick and goes travelling whilst she still can, stating she’ll be a few months but remaining away for longer. Upon her death Amy is thrown out of the house with the ten pounds left to her. Only it’s not ten pounds, it’s more, and Aurelia is sending her on a journey from beyond the grave.
Amy Snow is a long historically-rich story of self-discovery and friendship. Written with close attention to detail it is as much about the Victorian period as it is the mystery.
Because, truly, the mystery isn’t much of one. The story is simple and the answers very predictable but this was the intention – Amy works out the most likely scenario long before she learns it officially; this leaves her able to contemplate what happened otherwise. You could call this a cosy mystery – the answer is not imperative, though of course you want to know it, and the pacing is slow. But that is the beauty of the book.
Why? Because it’s not the mystery you want to read this book for, it’s its atmosphere. Amy Snow is a blending of Jane Eyre and any work of Austen. It is a classic Victorian novel written in the 21st century. It’s not perfect – there are some anachronisms, for example – but this book is the book for any reader who has looked at their finished collection of 19th century British novels and wished those authors were still writing today. It’s quite the feat.
So it’s a slow novel, full of waiting around and going to balls and dressing up. It’s got your evil Lady and your awesome elder who defies convention. It’s got your respectable gentleman suitor and your average shopkeeper’s son suitor. It’s got letters and calling cards and upstairs downstairs and your walking around looking at bonnets in the window and exclaiming at their beauty. Rees has worked hard to get it right. Yes there are anachronisms and even more exclamation marks than the Victorians used (this is something you get used to as you settle down into it) but by and large the writing style fits beautifully. It’s obvious that Rees has spent time working through the differences between modern and Victorian speech, and it lets you get pulled back in time. Amy Snow is not as confident as Elizabeth Bennet and whilst she is in a not dissimilar situation to Miss Eyre she spends too much time on herself; but she can be placed beside these two heroines with ease as far as feelings go.
Before I leave off from the writing I want to show you an example of Rees’ metaphors. She favours a certain sort of style that is quite fun, however much it becomes noticeable later on for its repeated use:
He proceeds to grill Mr Garland as thoroughly as a fish for his views about the railway.
The mystery in this book takes second place to Amy’s self-discovery. Aurelia’s treasure hunt, as it were, is important and ought to be followed, but Amy’s journey towards acceptance and who she wants to be takes centre stage. Amy’s journey whilst journeying is of course set apart from Aurelia. It comes with the baggage of knowing she wasn’t wanted by anyone but her friend and is something Aurelia knew but would never understand completely due to their difference in station. Amy struggles with her sudden fortune. At home with the relatively wealthy but down-to-earth family who accept that she would prefer to wear more modest dresses, she finds it difficult adjusting to her next situation which requires her to mix with the upper echelons and dress accordingly. Rees’ novel is somewhat the Cinderella story but unlike Cinderella, Amy can’t simply abandon her past. She has to learn for herself that Aurelia, by giving her riches, is giving her a choice – she can live as a virtual Lady; she can be amongst the gentry; she could become a servant. Aurelia was a Lady who wanted to be independent, see the world, speak to those lower than her, but could do none of those things precisely because she was a Lady. In Amy she posthumously lives her dream.
The self-discovery is where the main flaw of the book lies, one I must discuss if I’m to be objective. (This book left me in raptures, I loved it and it’s joined my all-time favourites, but I can’t deny there are flaws.) A lot of Amy Snow is composed of naval-gazing. Amy thinks a great deal, she over-thinks, re-hashes, and whilst it’s very realistic and happens to the best of us when in a situation where we have to choose and aren’t sure, or have had a sudden change that we’re adjusting to, it doesn’t work in a book. It becomes boring, as do her moans that she doesn’t want to keep following Aurelia’s treasure hunt. If you’re enjoying the rest of what the book does, it’s not going to be enough to make you abandon it, but it does affect it.
Apart from the anachronisms and exclamation marks there are sentences that use American grammar. As the spelling is American it can be assumed the erroneous grammar is not accidental, though of course it should be.
There are some very convenient second meetings where people Amy leaves behind just happen to turn up where she travels to – absolutely understandable when she’s mixing in high society and it’s a high society person she sees as they tended to stick together across the country, but less believable when it’s your average Joe. In this way you’ll need to put on your Rochester’s-voice-echoes-all-these-miles-away hat – is it lovely or just deus ex machina?
Lastly, there are many proof reading errors, distinct from the copy editing problems.
Amy Snow is a trip to the classics section of the bookshop. It’s a dream of a book for anyone who wants their Victorian-setting 21st century novels to be wonderful. It has the sort of epic story vibes, romanticism, that tend to make half of all readers swoon and the other half label it sappy. It’s both phenomenal and flawed.
This reviewer read the epic story and swooned just as she did when she read Brontë; her opinion on whether or not one should read this book is of course going to be ‘yes’ and for that reason she’s going to suggest you decide for yourself.