Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

As a fairly new convert to the author Susanna Kearsley’s work, I was pleased to be asked to review this novel. There is something for everyone in her books, whether it’s the beautifully crafted prose and deep emotions between  characters, to the English, Scots, Welsh and French history and mythology, all of which she handles beautifully.

This story is centred around archaeologist Verity Grey, whose ex-boyfriend, Adrian offers her a job in the Scottish fishing town of Eyemoth, where his eccentric boss, Peter Quinnell,  is intent on finding evidence that the Legio IX Hispana passed that way.

The mysterious loss of the Ninth Legion of the Roman army that precipitated the building of Hadrian’s Wall is a legend. Opinions are divided as to what happened, and many say the legion was scattered to fight in the Parthian wars, and therefore didn’t exist in its original formation after AD120, but the legend is more romantic and works better for this novel.

Verity soon discovers that Peter’s ‘proof’ resides in the mystical mind of a nine-year-old boy who sees and talks to ‘The Sentinel’, whom he claims walks the heath.  Oh, and his dog sees it too!

Despite its source, Verity becomes enthralled with her task, although I think she should have taken a stronger line with  Adrian, who persists with his ‘nudge-I-had-her-first’ allusions which I would certainly have put a stop to, especially as she is attracted to the handsome Scott, Davy Fortune, he of  the enigmatic nature and mysterious past.

Robbie is the delightful boy who is convinced his Roman soldier is protecting them, and is particularly drawn to Verity, though she cannot see him.  However as the days pass, The Sentinel, or someone is hovering, because Verity finds herself ‘led’ to lost items and receives warnings of possible danger.

As a character, ‘The Sentinel’ is enigmatic but compelling – well what would you expect from a ghost, and I looked forward to his infrequent appearances, though he never really explained why he was condemned to walk the heath for eternity.


The historical background was fascinating and Ms Kearsley sets a scene perfectly of a pretty little Scots fishing town with its amazing characters, like Davy’s Mother, Robbie’s father, and a fey young woman who is Peter’s granddaughter who isn’t the airhead she seems. Ms Kearsly evokes the same sense of mystical puzzles which must have existed at the time, the enigma of the fate of the five thousand soldiers who appeared to have walked into the mists of ‘The North’ and were never heard of again.

The narrative doesn’t so much come to a climax, as roll gently to a satisfying conclusion for Verity. However as a good read which keeps your attention, with dialogue that draws wonderful pictures of how the characters really feel – she handles nuances and body language beautifully – this story will not disappoint.

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