Oct 8, 2008

As it turns out, love can't cure everything.

Without Wonder
by Brooke James or Dale Gasque. We'll never really know, unless Dale comes out of the woodwork to claim this one as hers, which I don't see happening.
Published: 1999

So it's been nearly a month since I've touched a Thoroughbred book, and wow that month just flew right by. How's everyone feeling? A little Thoroughbred starved? I apologize for my delay in this area of the blog, because I really have no idea what took me so long to get around to this book, which is actually a pretty damn decent book. So decent I sort of fundamentally reject the idea that the series was heading in the wrong direction with this book (yes, that's right, I'm looking at you, Brooke...or Dale...or whoever you are), because had you (yes, you, Dale) stayed on with this series you probably would have made the series' transition back to racing more stable and less crazy. Besides, it never fails to piss me off when people complain about the series switching back to racing. People, Christina is 14 in this book. You want to complain about one dimensional characters in this series, you can just take that complaint and shove it because Christina is allowed to change her damn mind. And she's allowed to change her damn mind again. And AGAIN if she wants to. I personally don't care how many times she changes her mind. At least it's not yet another main character making a great decision in her tween years that she holds true to for the rest of her life, making her...what?...the most irritating, boring, cookie cutter character in the history of ever? These are characters that rarely have hobbies outside of horses. That Christina simply changes her mind is a landmark in that no one has their life mapped out for them by the age of 12.

That all said, I liked this book. Let me, like, talk about it more.

Is history repeating itself?

Christina Reese has heard the story many times--Wonder was a tiny, sickly foal no one thought was worth saving. No one but Christina's mother, Ashleigh. With Ashleigh's love and hard work, Wonder went on the win the Kentucky Derby.

Now, when Wonder's last foal is born under tragic circumstances, there's little hope for her baby colt. Only Christina can see that the colt is special, just like his mother was. But will she get a chance to prove it?

Read the Wonder's Legacy trilogy from Thoroughbred and experience the powerful bond between a determined girl and a very special colt. If you love horses, then you'll love these books!

So, you see what's happened here. People reacted badly to books 24-27, causing massive overhaul at wherever these decisions were made. By book 28 the gears shifted to racing, but so many books were already ordered between 28 and racing's re-introduction in the absolutely horrible, not to mention inexplicable, Cassidy's Secret (book 32). By that point people were besides themselves, so they overhauled the series again and now we've gone from the original tagline of "bond between determined girl and very special filly" to "bond between determined girl and very special colt." I guess the powers that be decided that imitating the golden years was their best bet, and it would have been. If they'd had sane authors. But that's neither here nor there. The point is that they're restarting the New Generation, making books 24-35 a strange twilight zone, where all the plots sort of converge to become that time that no one can decipher or really remember all that well. Hell, I read those books this year and I'm not quite sure what events happened in which book.

Anyhoo, we start out more than a year after book 35. We know this because it's something like January or February and Christina just turned 14 in December. Parker is now 16 (and he's shaving you guys; how quickly our boys grow up in this series), Melanie is now 15. Missy, the weanling from hell, is now two. Pride's Perfection is now a gelding (or possibly he isn't...you know how it goes). Cassidy and Dylan are long gone, never to be heard from again. Their absence is not even touched on, so whatever happened with them, it happened too long ago for it to matter now. The big news is that Wonder is pregnant again, because Ashleigh just really wanted another foal. Anyway, Ashleigh is acting all spacey like always and Christina just sort of writes her mother off as loopy over the prospect of a new Wonder baby, and goes on her merry way to Samantha's place for this clinic with Lars Stockholm.
Things with Lars go great, and he even hints that he'd like Christina to come train with him in Florida. Before Christina can properly blubber her way toward sort of accepting before talking to her parents about it, Ashleigh calls and saves her from this awkwardness. Only the thing is Wonder is going into early labor and no one else is at the farm to help her because Whitebrook is forever understaffed in their ongoing attempt to appear old fashioned and create unnecessary drama. So Parker drives Christina back to Whitebrook and drops her off, where she can sort of help with the delivery. The foaling takes too long, and Wonder is increasingly exhausted, but the foal is eventually born. Ashleigh has to perform mouth-to-nose resuscitation on the colt, but things turn out well. Even Wonder seems initially okay, at least well enough to be written off as tired by a clearly unprofessional vet. Although it becomes clear that things aren't alright with Wonder when she starts to refuse to drink and eat, causing Ashleigh's imminent downward spiral. Wonder is bleeding internally, and over the course of many pages she becomes increasingly worse and is put down. I go through this quickly out of necessity, but I liked how it was handled given that Wonder had to die sometime, and it seems appropriate for her to die in foaling complications given how difficult it always was for her to carry foals to term.

Only Ashleigh completely shuts down, which probably isn't the most believable situation. She's pretty much no good for the rest of the book, so Christina leads the charge in getting Star to accept a bottle and getting him a companion in the form of Nana the goat. Nana was probably the most annoying addition to the book considering she's the comic relief and you can only go so far with a goat providing comic relief before it gets tiring. Thus I am going to skip all of Nana's scenes and just settle on Christina becoming more and more wrapped up in Star to the point that she starts to slack with Sterling. Parker and Christina enter an event that goes well up until it becomes clear to Christina that Sterling is becoming exhausted in the cross country, resulting in her pulling the mare from the rest of the competition. At the event she runs into Eliza and Flash of Camp Saddlebrook fame, and Eliza tells her she's been exercising racehorses, which has been helping her balance. Even Parker has exercised racehorses, and Christina starts to think that there's something in this racing thing that might be beneficial to her. After long last, she asks Ashleigh if she can exercise some of the horses and we're treated to another "we're so happy you're going to race now!" scene while Christina has to let her parents down again that she's not that into racing. No wonder Christina has such issues with rejecting racing, what with Ashleigh and Mike blatantly stating their wishes all the time.

So, Christina starts to exercise regularly and by the time the Kentucky Derby rolls around they make a spectacle of a work with Missy and Perfection. Melanie and Christina dress up in silks and race against each other, which is one of those cutesy scenes I can completely do without. Nevertheless it's there, and even Tor manages to show up, so you know it's a big deal. Although it really isn't. Moving on, Missy runs in her maiden race and wins, giving Ashleigh and Christina ample opportunity to think back on Wonder's racing days. Christina takes the time to try to get her mom to talk about Star, but Ashleigh isn't having it. She is stone cold resolved to ignore the colt, even when it's becoming pretty damn obvious that Star is the best looking weanling on the farm. Due to Christina's diligence, he's been socialized with horses and has grown into himself. Ashleigh still refuses to even think of the colt staying with them long, and before you know it she's called up the Townsends and has arranged for Star to ship to Townsend Acres.

Christina is devastated, but Ashleigh is still emotionally wrecked over Wonder's death. The two come to the natural confrontation in the last chapter about Star that just ends in Ashleigh exclaiming that it was her fault Wonder died and every time she sees Star it's like a knife to her heart...she just can't get over it. So Christina does probably the first adult thing she's ever done and tells Ashleigh that it's okay. She can send Star away, and that's exactly what happens. Parker comes to pick Star up and they load him into the trailer and Parker carts him off, leaving Ashleigh, Mike and Christina to wallow in their separate grief.

And I LIKED it. You see, there are few times in this series where things go wrong and they can't be fixed magically by crying and hoping that things will be okay. For me, this goes all the way back to Pride's Last Race. The miraculous love-fixes-all recovery for Wonder's Pride always left me unsatisfied, because everything always turns out well for these people, like the stars are always aligned for them in the end. Princess breaks her leg twice? It's okay, she lives. Wonder's Pride has some nearly catastrophic colic episode? Love saves the day! Townsend Acres might go under? Wait, no it doesn't! For some reason! Retire Pride? Let's not do it after all! Like...please. The only thing that really hit these characters in Joanna's books was Charlie's death, and that was overdone. Karen Bentley took a little leap with killing a horse no one cared about amidst the worst span of books in the series. You could make an argument for Ashleigh's second pregnancy, but that's not even a blip on the map yet and is mostly Mary Anderson's doing, and I would have appreciated that had it not been a recycled plot. Whoever had the idea for this book had some nerve, and I appreciate that. I further like that it's done fairly well for a book of this nature.

So, those are my slightly chaotic thoughts. Also:

Brad. I am forever amused by how he's treated when he's not even doing anything remotely offensive. For instance:

Brad: "It's really too bad about the mare. She was irreplaceable."
Melanie (walking away from him, toward Christina) mouths: "What a jerk!"
Brad: "What a shame. I've never seen a Thoroughbred so small and shy. He's got dud written all over him."
Christina: "Star is not a dud!"
Mike: "Chris!"
Brad: "It's all right, Mike. I'm glad she's looking out for the little guy. He'll need it. Who knows -- maybe he'll make a nice pet. Thanks for letting me know about Wonder. My father's still in England, but I'll give him the news as soon as I can. Give Ashleigh my regards."
Mike: "I will. Thanks, Brad."

Like...he's not even sneering. Or being sarcastic. Or being rude. He's being realistic. In the next paragraph Christina admits that Brad is right about Star. I'm having trouble understanding how he's even slightly considered an antagonist at this point. As it reads, Christina and her Whitebrook people are acting like spoiled, mouthy asshats.

Then, later:

"He's obviously Wonder's boy," Brad commented, gazing at Star admiringly.
Well, Brad's sure changed his tune, Christina scoffed inwardly.

You know...his tune didn't even change all that much given that Star was all shy and premature the last time Brad saw him. Given that everyone was kind of shocked that Star grew up to be pretty impressive, Brad's statement isn't worth being a bitch over because he's thinking what everyone else is thinking, including what Christina's thinking. Seriously, the more I read these books, the more convinced I am that our protagonists are really the antagonists and Brad is merely over there amusing himself.

OKAY. I obviously really liked this book. It might have a lot to do with my desire to see some realistic tragedy handed out to these people and seeing them not rise above their problems, resulting in trophies and grins and happy whinnying. There are weak points (Ashleigh's character), but Ashleigh was always a little neurotic, so I find it hard to judge what she'd realistically do. Given all of that, it's a good New Gen read and it blows all of Karen Bentley's books, and a good portion of Joanna's LOVE SAVES ALL books out of the water.

4 comments:

Charlotte said...

I seriously love your comments on Brad. Ok - in the spirit of totally embarrassing admissions - so much that I check this blog almost everyday just to see if you have mentioned him. ;)

He really was unfairly treated in the series. And such a shame considering he could have been the best character (wait, what am I saying? No one can top him). I always felt the authors / editors / whatevers had a set list of things entitled "snarky comments to place in the mouth of Bradley H. Townsend". And then whenever he appeared on the scene it was either option A, B or C, no matter what was really going on in the scene.

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And Ashleigh? Don't even get me started on her. She is definitely vague and neurotic. That's one of my biggest barriers when it comes to writing Brad / Ash.

Brad is easy because he is just made of awesome, but Ashleigh, I have no idea who she is, as a character.

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What do you think the H. stands for? ;)

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Ok. Fangirl rant over.

Molly said...

I have to admit, this book? I've read twice in my life. Once when it first came out and once when I started recollecting the series. It's absolutely without question one of the best-written books since the first four, but OH MY GOD I just can't take it! I mean...it's WONDER. I'm actually tearing up just thinking about it.

I actually thought that Ashleigh's behavior was in keeping with her character, to react emotionally instead of professionally.

And yeah, I love how Brad is a jerk for saying that Wonder was irreplaceable and that Star surprised him by not growing up to be pathetic. I'm starting to think that at this point the ghostwriters were just doing it for the lulz.

I never liked the switch back to racing just because...meh, we had Melanie for that, and I've always preferred eventing to racing. They could've had their cake and eaten it to - and I wish they had.

Monique said...

H is for Horatio ;)

Mara said...

@Charlotte:
I think this blog revolves around Brad Townsend to a certain degree. I can't help it. He owns my creative process at this point. And I agree about Brad/Ash...she is definitely the harder character to understand. I seem to always push her into the insecure/neurotic category, and given how she acts in canon I guess that isn't too far off.

Brad's middle name? My to my shame, I have given much thought to this and determined that it would probably be his mother's maiden name. Like Harrison or something in that vein. ;)

@Molly:
I doubt most of the writers knew what to do with Brad. He is totally powerful and in control of a perfect farm...that abuses its horses and is evil incarnate? What?

I also sort of think they did have their cake and eat it too, what with Parker contributing the eventing and Samantha being all weirdly eventing. To me, though, it always comes down to the problem of introducing eventing in 24, in a series that was primarily about racing, thereby ruining what made the series different. In the end, I'd say it worked out. Racing went back to primary focus, but eventing stuck around in the background. That was fine with me.