My rating: 7.5/10. A fast little read. Fairly typical “young adult” adventure-romance, but a well-written and nicely plotted example of its genre.
The author’s name sounded familiar, and looking on her list of previous titles I realize I already own and some years ago read one of her earlier books, How I Live Now. Must delve around for that one – it was quite different in setting – fictional post-apocalyptic Britain versus vaguely historical Industrial Revolution Britain.
I’m tagging this one “alternative world” because though the setting has many real world parallels, it doesn’t feel quite right in a historical sense; it is apparently set in the 1850s, but is almost medieval, or possible mid 1700s, in some of the incidents, and how the people think, talk and live. (Or maybe it is quite historically correct, and the disconnect is just my own take.) For much of the book I was wondering if this was perhaps set in post-modern times, in a newly primitive society, and that was even before I made the How I Live Now connection.
On the morning of August the twelfth, eighteen hundred and fifty something, on the day she was to be married, Pell Ridley crept up from her bed in the dark, kissed her sisters goodbye, fetched Jack in from the wind and rain on the heath, and told him they were leaving. Not that he was likely to offer any objections, being a horse.
Though Pell sincerely loves and respects her childhood sweetheart Birdie, she is repelled by the thought of what marriage means: a subservient position versus her present equality as Birdie’s tomboyish companion, a life of continual pregnancy and childbirth, and the speedy degradation of her body, as typified by her own mother’s sorry example. The morning of her marriage, Pell sneaks out of the family cottage with her few possessions, and accompanied by her horse Jack and her small mute brother Bean, heads into the unknown.
Pell has no real plan but to escape, though she feels that she might find employment at Salisbury Fair, so that is where she heads, narrowly missing discovery by her father who has headed there as well to seek out his errant children. An itinerant fire-and-brimstone preacher, Joe Ridley has a compulsive weakness for strong drink and womanizing, and his neglect of his family has been the root cause of Pell’s decision to flee.
Pell and Bean fall in with a fatherless Gypsy family, and meet with a certain amount of kindness from strangers during their days at Salisbury, though by the end of the fair this hopeful beginning has come to nought. Pell has been stiffed by the man who employed her to help choose some horses, and Bean and Jack have disappeared.
Bad turns quickly worse, as Pell desperately seeks her missing brother (and her horse); she eventually ends up spending the winter living in a shed beside a poacher’s woodland cottage. The poacher, never named but dubbed Dogman by Pell, is a mysterious, silent man who mostly ignores his desperate hanger-on, until she falls afoul of an amorous villager, whereupon Dogman rescues her, brings her into his home, and, inevitably, his bed.
The horse and the boy have their own adventures, and Pell eventually reconnects with both, as well as with two of her younger sisters.
Much angst, tragedy, and drama, and teasing gleams of romance. Pell of course has marvelous hidden abilities – a stereotypical necessity for a classic YA heroine – in her case an almost magical affinity for horses. This is a very horsey book, by the way. In quite a good way.
Suspend your disbelief – and oh, yes, you’ll need to! – and go along for the ride. Nicely diverting tale, for teens and adults. Rosoff gets my nod – good work. (Gorgeous cover, too.)