Last year, Tracy Rees’ debut novel won Richard and Judy’s “search for a bestseller” competition. Completely engrossing, it was a worthy selection.
Set in England in 1848, it’s full of romance and mystery, taking the form of a scavenger hunt in which the heroine, Amy Snow, follows a trail left behind in letters by her late friend and mentor, ebullient heiress Aurelia Vennaway. Seventeen-year-old Amy owes her life to Aurelia, who had found her as a newborn, abandoned in the snow on her wealthy family’s Surrey estate. Lord and Lady Vennaway had acceded to their daughter’s wishes in letting Amy grow up at Hatville Court but always resented her presence. Before Aurelia’s tragic early death from a heart ailment, she developed a clever way of ensuring Amy’s future livelihood while broadening her social horizons – and attempting to make up for her family’s hateful behavior.
The clues Amy finds (some of which take time to figure out) lead her around the country, introduce her to fascinating people, and prove that the kindness, love, and the family life she craves exist outside of Aurelia’s sheltering wings. Along the way, she learns surprising revelations about Aurelia and a lot about herself. Amy’s journey – and, consequently, the novel’s structure – may be contrived, but the author wisely makes her aware of it. The obligations of her mission chafe from time to time, as does her burden of secrecy, especially when enticing alternatives present themselves.
While the story is fanciful in spots, Amy Snow is written with warmth and attention to detail, particularly on Victorian geography and modes of travel. Best of all, it offers a tenderly poignant portrait of true friendship, a rare thing that both young women rightly treasure.