Reviewed by Lorraine Cormack
Stolen Away has much the same strengths and weaknesses as Harvey’s other novels. It seems that she’s not changing much as an author; she’s found her rhythm and is sticking to it with little improvement (or degeneration). But the result is a set of entertaining, pleasant enough novels; and if she’s happy and her audience is happy, does she really need to push herself?
Eloise Hart is a pretty ordinary teenage girl. She doesn’t fit with the cool kids, but she does have her good friends – notably, Jo and Devin. She has her share of insecurities, but she’s also pretty comfortable with who she is. Her family is a bit unusual – her single mother dresses like a rockabilly and tends bar, and her aunt appears every year for around six months and then disappears completely for another six. She’s not even contactable during those six months.
But that’s the way it’s always been, so Eloise doesn’t think too much about it. She has schoolwork to get done, a part time job to fill, and some socialising to keep up with. Although truthfully, a lot of her socialising seems to be about keeping the boy-mad Jo out of trouble. She’d flirt with a statue! And although Devin is resigned to the idea he’ll have to punch someone on her behalf one day, he’d rather that’s as distant as possible. So Eloise tries to curb Jo’s worst tendencies.
And nothing brings Jo’s romantic fantasies to a head like a drop dead gorgeous guy, carrying a sword, throwing himself to his knees at Eloise’s feet. Okay, so it’s a bit weird to have that happen in front of an ice cream parlour, but still! And then he vows to protect Eloise from an evil faery king!
The trouble is, it soon becomes clear that he’s not a nutter. An evil faery king is indeed after Eloise, and he’s very real and very dangerous. Some family secrets are about to become a lot less secret, and the future of both the faery world and the normal world depend on how well Eloise addresses these most unexpected challenges. Jo and Devin will try to help her, but they’re as much out of their depth as she is.
One of the strengths of Stolen Away is the characterisation. I’ve noted before that Harvey has a particularly good ear for the way teenage girls talk and interact. She’s not bad with teenage boys either, but the girls just have that extra ring of truth about their friendships. Harvey tends not to worry too much about male friendships – they’re not very evident in her novels.
But Eloise and Jo are truthful characters. The things they worry about, the way they talk to each other, the way they have a vision for their future which is both quite clear and at the same time a bit vague around the edges – all these things feel like very real teenage girls.
A weakness is the plotting. It’s pretty damn obvious in a lot of places, to be honest. It still provides an entertaining and diverting story, but surprises? Twists? Not so much. Perhaps this doesn’t matter; this isn’t really a suspense novel. It’s a story about friendship and family, with a little romance and a little magic. It’s aimed at a younger audience, many of whom will be satisfied with a fairly straightforward plot. There isn’t much in the way of subplots, and the one that exists is as clichéd as the main plot.
There’s plenty of action, well described and carried out. This smooths over a few weaknesses in the plot and makes for a lively and energetic novel. Despite the strong characterisations (and the first person narration) this isn’t a very introspective novel. The characters are too busy dealing with what’s happening now to spend much time brooding.
The romances are a nice blend of reality and fantasy. Although the novel acknowledges that teenagers have sexual feelings, it places itself squarely among those who are making the discoveries gradually and not rushing things. This adds a sweetness to the romances, and fits with the ‘old fashioned’ courtesies extended by some of the males in the novel. While it is probably a bit more innocent than most seventeen or eighteen year old romances would be, it isn’t unrealistic either. Importantly, it probably means the novel will appeal to a certain group of adults who will buy this novel for teenagers.
Stolen Away isn’t going to set the world on fire. It’s not an overly memorable book, and it doesn’t have a lot to offer in the way of originality. However, it’s pleasant and entertaining, and well tailored for its intended audience. There’s not much wrong with it other than a lack of originality, and there’s enough energy that most people will forgive that. This is recommended for young female readers; older female readers will also find it a pleasant if undemanding diversion, but I suspect most male readers won’t find a lot to interest them.