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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Stolen One by Suzanne Crowley

Title: The Stolen One
Author: Suzanne Crowley
Reviewed Format: hardcover
Pages: 416
Release Date: June 30, 2009

I suddenly became aware of a terrible odor. The lad whistled while Mr. Salinas sat forward and peered over the mules, who snorted in anticipation. Anna roused awake next to me. “Whatever is that smell?” I finally asked, being the only one to acknowledge it.

“Why, it’s London, my dear!” And with that Mrs Grove finally hit her husband hard enough so that his eyes opened up.

-The Stolen One (Crowley p. 89)

I was lucky enough to win a signed copy of Suzanne Crowley’s The Stolen One through a GoodReads Giveaway. The cover is gorgeous (I love her hair), and the synopsis made me really curious. It’s not just YA, it’s YA historical fiction--a good combination.

Kat has been raised by Grace Bab as a sister to Grace’s daughter, Anna. Anna is a quiet beauty, with hair as pale as her mother’s, speaking only to Grace and Kat in a voice otherwise unintelligible to strangers. Kat is curious and outspoken with blazing red hair and a vibrant personality ill-suited to a young girl coming of age in 16th Century England. Despite all thoughts to the contrary, her confidence and strong-will has attracted the attentions of the young sheep farmer Christian Bab, nephew to Grace and cousin to Anna. Of course, Kat is supposed to believe Christian is her cousin, too, but she knows better. She knows Grace has been keeping secrets and lying to her about the real world and her real heritage.

When a mysterious omen appears in the woods outside of their cottage as the ladies prepare for the local festival, Kat is sure death is near. An evening of revelry ensues in which there is a proposal, a death, and a revelation. It doesn’t take much to inspire Kat’s motivation for the truth and the next morning she packs her bags and takes Anna with her to London in search of her birth mother, leaving the country and Christian behind indefinitely.

The Stolen One is a romantic tale of intrigue at the court of Queen Elizabeth I in which Crowley explores the life of a royal child forever thought lost to the world to fates unknown. There’s mystery surrounding Kat’s past, gorgeous gowns, lavish dishes, scandal, and, of course, romance. The women of Crowley’s imagined Elizabethan court are as flirtatious as they are wicked and cunning. They are quick to jealousy, as hot-tempered as their Queen and as dangerous. Contrast this against Kat’s keen eye for embroidery, a talent so strong it wins her a prime spot in Elizabeth’s retinue, and the combination eludes to an atmosphere of a 16th Century “Project Runway.” There’s a lot of focus on dresses and materials, embroidery detail and embellishments, patterns and stitches, techniques and draperies. It’s enough to either exhaust the reader into yearning for an accompanying full color pattern book or inspire frequent trips to the local Renaissance Faire to drool at the dress vendors.

There’s no argument from me that Crowley has written an alluring book. Kat is at times a bit unsympathetic and selfish in her determination to unearth the secrets of her past. Her adventures and accomplishments come at the expense of poor Anna whom I wished the world for. I was very disappointed with happened to her. But Kat does seem to redeem herself at the end of the book which surprised me as I realized the beauty of the story was in the journey Kat took to bring her where she ended up. The lessons she learns are invaluable, albeit costly.

There are a few characters I would have liked to know more about, like Rafael and his mother; the suspense led me to believe there really was something menacing in Rafael, something to add to his dark physical appearance, but if I was disappointed in this regard, I wasn’t disappointed with Rafael overall. That’s not to say I liked how his character was treated, I just think the added dimension came too late for Kat to appreciate in any real sense for a girl who’d been stand offish and suspicious of him for the majority of the book.

The Stolen One is filled with characters that are as varied and vibrant as Kat’s embroideries; some that are shallow and mean-spirited; some that are benevolent and unambitious. In the end, the people of the court were no more than props to remind us (and Kat) that in Elizabeth’s court, “it’s all about illusions” (p. 191). Against the beautiful and enchanting backdrop of masques, idle time spent in luxury, sumptuous clothing, and delicacies fit for royalty, Kat comes to realize the truth of her life as she’s come to know is more important than anything she could ever have yearned for in the past.

I could have done with fewer uses of the word “aye,” but would recommend this book to anyone who wants an overall satisfying read that takes you there and back again through the eyes of an angry, confused, but determined teenage girl. And, it’s a colorful, rich journey. Did I mention the dresses?

Thank you, Suzanne Crowley!


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