It wasn’t by accident that I picked up Dark Horses – the title instantly drew my attention, and the comparison to Black Beauty pretty much sealed the deal. I am, after all, a renowned horse lover (with a little cutie of a chestnut gelding as my current horse). Strangely, I don’t normally like to read fiction that features horses as the main focal point of the story – perhaps because I’ve rarely come across a convincing account of their behaviour. Nevertheless, Ziegesar’s newest novel hooked me from the get-go.
While Black Beauty is like sweet liquorice – morish with a bit of bite to it – Dark Horses is like a rich chocolate fondant with a light dusting of cocaine – once you get a taste of it, you won’t be able to stop, however much you’d like to…
As Publishers Weekly once said about Cecily von Ziegesar’s much celebrated series, Gossip Girl, her new novel “…has the effect of gossip itself – once you enter it’s hard to extract yourself; teens will devour this whole.”
Dark Horses follows the exploits of Merritt Wenner and Red. Merritt has been self-destructing ever since the tragic death of her grandmother. After an epic all-night bender, she walks out of her SAT exams. Her parents, looking for a quick fix, ship her off to a residential equine-assisted therapy program to help cure her.
By chance, Merritt meets Red: a failed racehorse and a terror in the barn. Red has never bonded with anyone, but Merritt is not afraid of him, which makes all the difference. Soon they’re sneaking rides after curfew. Red’s owner, recognising their potential, funds their launch into the hunter/jumper circuit. Against the cutthroat backdrop of competitive riding, Merritt finds herself unexpectedly attracted to Red’s groom, Beatrice. But in Red’s mind, Merritt belongs to him alone. Anyone else poses a threat.
Dark Horses is a deeply moving and psychological drama about a grieving teenager struggling to come to terms with the death of her grandma, who finally begins to discover a sense of solace in a damaged horse. But the drama doesn’t end there. Red is not your typical stable horse, and he doesn’t take too kindly to those who’d come between himself and the person he cares for…
Sometimes I thought about how to get rid of her. All right, not sometimes, all the time.
There’s a sense of trepidation running throughout; no-one can predict what Red will do next…
Written in a dual narrative form, Ziegesar expertly captures the personalities and psyche of Red and Merritt; most interestingly for me was Red’s thought process. For every horse lover and animal fanatic out there, you’ll love hearing Red’s inner dialogue – his audacious, brazen character; at times hilarious, at other times sombre, but most of all, you’ll cherish Red’s deep affection for his beloved Merritt.
I stopped walking, aware that her position was precarious. If I tripped or stumbled in the dark she could fall off and be badly hurt. She wasn’t even wearing a helmet.
The bond between Red and Merritt is immensely endearing. Red reminds me so much of the beautiful horse I share. They are both chestnut thoroughbreds, and even though mine is gentle, with an even temperament, he also has his cheeky side too. Often I notice how well behaved he is for me as opposed to other people and much like Merritt in Dark Horses, it also makes me feel very special. And that is one of the wonderful things about Cecily von Ziegesar’s novel; the story highlights the beauty of horses, their intelligence and the loyalty that they choose to share with us. With emphasis on ‘choose’, for it’s known that no-one can make a horse do something that he doesn’t want to do, and Red is the ultimate example of that.
The fact that the novel begins in media res without giving you all the information straight away creates an air of mystery and ignited my curiosity from the beginning. The fun doesn’t stop there as the plot is riveting in its forward pace and in the slow release of the character’s backstories, keeping the reader hooked throughout.
A Venus fly trap for horse enthusiasts – prepare your heart for a warm, gentle nudge, with some slow delicious melting.
Dark Horses by Cecily von Ziegesar is published by Soho Press and releases on 5th October 2017 (£7.99, p/b, 327pp, 9781616958169)
Post by Sarah