Mar 1, 2008

With God as My Witness, I’ll Never Love Horses Again – Ashleigh #4: Goodbye Midnight Wanderer

Ashleigh #4: Goodbye Midnight Wanderer
Created by Joanna Campbell
Written by Olivia Coates
First Printing: April 1999

Churning them out like clockwork, I am, right? I’m actually a couple of books farther in the Ashleigh series, but it involves finding the time to type everything up. Since I’ve got a new hayburner in my life, I tend to think the joy of actually riding a pony takes precedence over reading about selfish, spoiled children complaining they don’t have a “real” horse. But we begin as we always do, with the cover:

It’s unfortunately another one of those very uninspiring and bland covers that were it not for the fact that is it part of a series, people aren’t likely to be very willing to leap at the chance to look inside it. Ashleigh once again has very straight and very light brown hair again, and looks vaguely how we might assume Jessica Alba looked at age 10, only with Botox treatments. The shape of her face changes from cover to cover, only here, she doesn’t seem to have cheekbones, and her skin looks very very shiny. The horse looks far too old to be a yearling and has a mottled muzzle and mottling around its eyes. Now, these are Appaloosa characteristics, and last I checked, Edgardale was a Thoroughbred breeding farm (unless an Appy teaser got to Wanderer while she was visiting another farm to be bred.) Also, the horse doesn’t really look like anything in pain, he looks like he’s zoned out, and probably wondering “Why the heck are you sticking your face that close to my eye?” Lastly, the bedding material in the stall seems to be something weird – is it sawdust or straw? Strawdust -- with all the absorbency of sawdust but with the stick-like pokiness of straw? Can I somehow market that stuff? I have a pony to support after all.

The Summary:
Was it really Ashleigh’s fault?
Tragedy has struck at Edgardale. Ashleigh's favorite yearling has been injured in a terrible accident, and Ashleigh feels responsible., The vet says the colt should be put down. Ashleigh begs for time, and devotes herself to caring for the yearling. But nothing Ashleigh does seems to help. The yearling must be destroyed. Blaming herself for the colt's sad fate, Ashleigh vows never to become attached to a horse again--it can only end in tearful goodbyes. Can any horse mend Ashleigh's broken heart?
Can I be evil, and point a finger at Ashleigh and go: “Yes, yes it is all your fault, wallow in your guilt, girl, for the rest of eternity!” But seriously folks, this summary does seem pretty spot on with the plot in the book. Horse gets hurt, girl blames self, vet wants to put horse down, and Ashleigh begs for extra time, but horse doesn’t recover and thus gets the sleepy shot, and our favorite equine-loving heroine retreats from horses. But of course, her heart is mended, because otherwise, the series would be over right then and there.

The Big Picture Plot:
Obviously, the big plot point to the story is Midnight Wanderer, the farm’s best yearling out of the farm’s best broodmare, breaking his cannon bone in an oh so tragic accident because he was ‘play-fighting’ with some other yearling. Now, the sensible thing to do is be humane to the poor creature and put him down. He’s a yearling, he’s nothing but a money sink at this point, and for a family business that relies on yearling sales to keep afloat, trying to save a colt like that would be insanity. Maybe if the Griffens were independently wealthy like Roy and Gretchen Jackson, maybe saving Midnight Wanderer would have been more feasible, but considering they aren’t, then it would have been a wiser course of action to have put him down from the start.

Which of course would mean that we wouldn’t have any kind of a story past the first two chapters. So naturally, Ashleigh must beg and plead (never caring just how expensive this kind of thing is) for his life. So yay, they slap a cast on and drug him up to high heaven. And now Ashleigh starts blaming herself for not stopping the two horses. But alas, Midnight Wanderer doesn’t heal, and even two weeks later, his leg isn’t even knitting, and the Griffens do the right thing, and let him go.

Which brings us to the semi-plot within a plot. And that’s Ashleigh’s broken hearted pity-fest. Instead of immersing herself in horses to make up for her loss of the well-loved yearling, she abandons them entirely. And it’s not until Caroline tricks her into going out to the barn by hiding her kitten in the tack room, does she realize that Stardust is now cribbing out of boredom (gee, you know, I dealt with that. Bravo, Ashleigh, if you’re lucky, you can catch it in time, if not, hello fence repair!) and she finally decides to love horses again.

Some Key Points of Interest:
  • On page 6, we are told that Wanderer’s Quest is prepping for the Florida Derby. Now, if I’m not mistaken, Wanderer’s Quest was introduced as a three-year-old turf filly running in the Providian Mile on Derby Day in Ashleigh #1. Christmas and the New Year have been and gone, Wanderer’s Quest is now officially four. The Florida Derby is on the dirt, and it is age-restricted to three-year-olds because it’s a Kentucky Derby prep race. Therefore, she’d be ineligible to run unless the Fontaines (her owners) have truly found a way to turn back the clock.
  • Ashleigh daydreams about riding Wanderer’s Quest in the Preakness. “The barriers went down and they were off, racing down the track.” I don’t know what kind of racing this author watches. The starting gate opens, and even in the old days before the introduction of a mechanized starting gate, the mesh-rope barrier thing went up. Standardbreds have this cool mobile starting gate mounted on the back of a car or truck, maybe that’s it … except even those barriers fold inwards. I don’t know of any barriers that go down.
  • Ashleigh almost administers a shot of Bute to Midnight Wanderer. My question is; what kind of parents are Derek and Elaine if they just leave serious drug medicine lying around on a desk where their 10 year old daughter can get to it? Phenylbutazone is dangerous – fatally so in some cases. Far as I’m aware, you can only get it from your vet or from Valley Vet with a prescription, and they rarely dispense it in anything other than paste/tube form. If they do give it in shot-form, I'd imagine the best thing to do is lock that stuff up, ASAP.
  • Later, Ashleigh does give Midnight Wanderer a shot of Bute. Perfectly done. Holy Jeebsus! The kid’s missed her calling! Forget about being a jockey, if she can administer a shot like that without training based off what she’s seen others do, then she’s a child prodigy veterinarian. Even I can’t do that, and I’ve owned horses for longer than she’s even been alive. Seriously though folks, it’s not just a matter of sticking the needle in the horse’s neck, Bute needs to be administered intravenously. Sticking the needle into muscle tissue can cause tissue damage.
  • There’s that mention of the Florida Derby again, and they keep calling Wanderer’s Quest a mare. Mares are age four and over, fillies are age three and under. Therefore, that does indicate that she is over age three. Hello! Age-restricted race calling again.
  • Now it’s Caroline and Ashleigh’s turn for the catty screaming. Oh the joys of sisterhood.
Well, that was a sob story (Not!) Wah, dying horse. I don’t think I cried though. We knew it was a lost cause from the beginning, because Nureyev aside, very few horses survive severely broken legs. So we never could expect miracles, and therefore no reason to cry. Now, if I wanted a tearjerker, I’d read The Forgotten Filly. That really tugs my heart strings. But moving on, Ashleigh has boy-trouble of the horse and human kind!


Anonymous said...

You know, it really annoyed me how they gave away half of the book in the cover summary. I mean, it would've been awesome to spring a surprise baby horse death on unsuspecting children...hey, JC got away with it in Battlecry Forever! (uh, spoiler?)

Mara said...

This does make me curious about how they handle the actual races and such when the Ashleigh Series is a time bubble. Ashleigh doesn't why do the horses have that luxury? Why on earth do you bother mentioning annual events and holidays if your main character won't age past 12?