by K.M. Grant
Book One of the de Granville Trilogy
So, I liked the movie Kingdom of Heaven. Orlando Bloom is pretty, and there were all of these gorgeous horses and that's pretty much all you need to sell me on something. Plus, had they spun that movie in a slightly different direction it could have very easily become The Black Stallion. Only during the Crusades. How awesome would that have been? So when I come across Blood Red Horse, which is essentially boy and horse go to the Crusades, naturally I'm beyond happy to give this a try.
Two Boys. One girl. The adventure of a lifetime.
You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:
A fair maiden.
A just cause.
Will has a horse—a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight. Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant—Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna. . . .
Yes, this is Kingdom of Heaven meets The Black Stallion. Only the stallion is red, and they mention this repeatedly. Right down to how the actual color of blood clashes with the stallion's natural red color, which would then bring into question the title of the book...but whatever. The Blood Red Horse takes place between 1185 and 1193, before and during Richard the Lionheart's stint with the Crusades. So the events of Kingdom of Heaven actually very conveniently occur right before the events of this book. But for simplicity's sake, we'll start at the beginning, in 1185, when Will, Gavin and Ellie are all annoying youngsters.
In 1185 everyone is happy. Gavin is sixteen and basically an asshole. William is 12 and pretty much perfect. Ellie is ten and plays the orphaned, absurdly rich, tomboy distant cousin to the two boys. Because Ellie is extremely rich, Thomas de Granville (father of the boys) intends to marry her off to Gavin, increasing the wealth of the already wealthy family. It's right around time for William to get his first war horse. Or Great Horse. Or destrier or whatever these things are called. Apparently these weren't draft types, so I just imagine a fairly big boned horse and leave it at that. Because Gavin has had his war horse for a while, a big bay called Montlouis, Will is eager to get his own big bay so he can be important and stop this being tossed in the water trough business that he brother likes to do occasionally. Catching his dad on a good day, Thomas says he can go down to the stud and pick himself a horse. Will goes with full intentions of getting another Montlouis, but instead he finds the son of his riding mare, a smaller destrier called Hosanna. Sparks, as you can imagine, fly. I guess chestnuts match just as well with twelve-year-old boys as they do with girls, because William's interest immediately turns to Hosanna and before you know it he's leading him back to the castle or whatnot.
Everyone is all "OMG this horse is tiny!" but William is not to be dissuaded. Hosanna is the perfect equine, and soon wins everyone over. He gallops like he's floating, he never tires, he jumps, he shocks and awes, and, more importantly, he makes Montlouis look all unimpressive and stuff. Yes, that's right. UNIMPRESSIVE.
Time drags by. At some point, Gavin randomly has a mental break and needs Hosanna in order to partake in a fox hunt that apparently lasts from one side of England to another. Seriously, I have no idea what came over Gavin here, because it's not explained all that well, but he loses it and tears England up with Hosanna in search of foxes. While he catches his second fox, he's busy flinging it around and screaming his head off while Hosanna literally collapses right next to him. Gavin shows almost no remorse over this because he's "just a horse," while everyone else has a fit because Hosanna is everyone's equine Jesus. Thomas decides to send Gavin "to the north" and Ellie is all disgusted with him, throwing this little dog statue he made at him and telling him to shove it (or something to that effect...it was 1185, after all). You see, Gavin quickly becomes the most interesting character in this book, as he is flawed and horrible for the majority of it. Naturally I began to root pretty hard for him, as William became more and more perfect to a painful point somewhere during the Crusades. So Gavin has fucked up royally and Hosanna is beyond help, so he's sent to live with the monks for a while.
I could get into this, but I won't. Essentially, one of the monks begins to treat the horse and by some divine coincidence Hosanna lives. He's returned to William, having converted a few monks from Christianity and into worshiping at his hooves. Basically. Then everyone goes to the Crusades, and they're happy to go. Everyone is sporting that classic YAY!WAR!OMG! thing before it inevitably turns horribly, horribly wrong. You know it will. It's the Crusades. People didn't go there and die of fevers and turn to cannibalism because it was fun. You'd think people would learn, but no. YAY!WAR!OMG!
So Gavin and Ellie are betrothed, confusing the hell out of poor little William, but he really shouldn't be that worried because I'm convinced that later on Gavin dies and William and Ellie get married and have fantastic children who ride Hosanna's fantastic foals. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Everyone has extremely unsatisfactory farewells, and Ellie is left alone at the castle and all the strapping men and boys ride off for the Crusades with Richard.
Predictably, everything starts to suck pretty hard, pretty soon. The voyage to the Holy Land takes a year, about half of their entourage die, nearly half of their horses die, and when they finally get to Acre their father, predictably, dies. After this event, Gavin and William have a collective hissy fit and decide that OMG! they hate Muslims! Or something like that. It makes little sense considering their father died of fever, and I'm not altogether sure he even saw battle. Well, anyway. They go take over Acre and that killing of 3,000 captives happens because Saladin won't pay the ransom. When this happens we get our second piece of evidence that Hosanna is actually Jesus: he refuses to move forward when all the knights charge the captives and slaughter them mercilessly in the desert. He just won't go. William gets so pissed off that he does his one (and only) act of imperfection: he smacks the horse on the neck with his sword. However, because of the horse, William is saved from the one act that would have tainted his gary stuness. So, honestly, I don't know what to think about all of this.
Meanwhile we have Kamil. Kamil is a poor, male, Muslim version of Will. He works for Saladin, and he's all vengeful because some Christian knight with a birthmark killed his dad. So Kamil is a bloodthirsty jackass. Essentially, he is Gavin and William combined, up until the end of the book, when he's basically a Muslim version of William. (If you are following me right now, I am shocked.) OKAY, so Kamil wants to kill lots of Christians while Saladin is all "it is right and honorable to not be cruel and blah blah blah." Kamil wants blood, and he wants it now. Then he goes and finds his father's killer and kills that guy's son, but "doesn't know why." Come on, really? Kamil was intolerable for a lot of the book, actually.
Anyway, stuff happens. Gavin whores around, and William is all "I am pure! Do not taint me with your sluts!" Basically. Gavin mocks him and whores around some more. Ellie, meanwhile, is learning to read and write, despite the abbot of the community insisting that women are worthless and should not learn anything because that's when society will decline and fall or something to that effect. Except there's some monk/priest or someone who doesn't think so and helps her anyway, resulting in hysterics and general 1100s craziness about inappropriate behavior, priests, and rich girls potentially getting it on in the middle of the forest. No, nothing actually happened in the forest, but Thomas's original helper guy is plotting to take over while everyone is away in the Holy Land, and he'd really like Ellie's money, so he's maneuvering to put himself in Gavin's place. The plan is to make Ellie look like a whore, step in to marry her (because surely Gavin won't, despite her money, which makes it sort of obvious what evil guy is doing, but whatever because everyone is an idiot and believes him, not Ellie, because Ellie has female private parts) and then rule all of the de Granville property. Ellie is not thrilled.
So the Crusades are, like, still going. They continue and continue. Gavin loses an arm, spurring him out of his asshole, whorish ways and into good, brotherly ways. Hosanna is stolen by Kamil, who has some crisis of faith and gets recruited by The Old Man Of The Mountain, whom I guess is a middle ages version of Osama bin Laden. The Old Man wants to kill Saladin, who has figured out this plot way in advance, making Kamil look like a moron. This all eventually comes to a point at Jaffa, during yet another battle, where Saladin has had enough of this and wants to fight Richard "to the death" despite the fact that this is obviously going to go nowhere again. Richard arrives at Jaffa with enough force to take the city back, but no horses, so Saladin is all wonderful and gives him horses. Saladin makes Kamil hand over Hosanna as payback for being an idiot. Then they all fight, and this culminates in Richard riding Hosanna around and accidentally getting the horse shot with an arrow.
Apparently once the king's horse is felled the battle ends? Or something? Or this is the third piece of proof we need concerning Hosanna actually being Jesus. Because Hosanna is shot with an arrow and everything comes to a standstill. We're talking about a giant battlefield, here. Not only does this happen, but Kamil, Richard, Gavin and William all rush up to the horse, throw religion aside and are all OMG! the pretty pony is all injured! I am not kidding. So they work together to try to save the horse, and eventually this includes William suggesting they figure out where Mecca is and pray to Mecca. I am not even kidding. Richard's all to hell with that, and walks off. But they all pray to Mecca for the horse's sake, and then miraculously Hosanna gets up and they usher the horse a full mile back to Jaffa. And then they send some groom to Saladin to ask for supplies to help save Hosanna, and he sends supplies.
So everyone collectively gets over their Muslim/Christian issues to save Hosanna. Hosanna is saved, and everyone has religious breakthroughs, mostly everyone visits Jerusalem on pilgrimage, some plot points are seeded for the sequel with Kamil coming to England, and then everyone goes home to learn that Richard has been captured by Leopold V. And that Richard randomly makes William the Earl of something, which effectively makes him outrank Gavin, the count of their original castle, Hartslove. Ellie greets them all and decides that Gavin really does need her, seeing as he only has one arm, and he's confused because he thinks she really loves William more, but she doesn't appear to be outwardly concerned about this. It ends on a good note, but surely more insanity is likely to happen, what with Ellie's would-be-almost-second betrothed running around trying to usurp power, and seeing as how Richard is in Austria against his will and all. More adventures to come, I'm sure.
- Hosanna is everyone's savior in this book. Not only does everyone care about his health and general well being, they touch his forehead for good luck, and they include him in their random battle and religious mantras. Like: "For God, the King, and Hosanna." It's weird. Really, very weird.
- Show, not tell. Seriously, seriously violated here. Most of this book was basically: "And this happened, and this happened, and while this happened, this had happened, and he said something about this, but everyone knew that this would happen if this didn't and this did." Because of this, all the action is glossed over and makes everyone in the book a stereotype. William is the perfect main character who randomly gets everything without trying, Hosanna is the main character's perfect horse. Ellie is the spunky girl they all leave behind, who has to forge onward by herself. Kamil is the burned Inigo Montoya character who learns that vengeance isn't as great as peace. Gavin is the jackass who pays for his sins and is rewarded with Ellie (maybe, I'm still not convinced he's getting a happy ending there). All other horses are not as good as Hosanna (at all). All evil or slightly evil characters are obvious and are always slinking places. It's all remarkably two dimensional. Actually, it's probably the most two dimensional book I've ever read.
- Mary Sues. Oh, man. William and Hosanna make Ashleigh and Wonder look like giant flaws in the face of horse related literature by comparison.
- Gavin. Gavin was awesome because he was literally the only character who showed any development whatsoever. Kamil...sort of showed development, but not at all in the way Gavin did. So I pick Gavin. I mean, after suffering through how randomly fantastic and, therefore, boring William was all the time, I have to pick Gavin.
This was a good idea for a book. I wanted to like it. Unfortunately, you know, it just wasn't great. It was sort of mediocre. It was too politically correct and shoved too much time (eight years) in 277 pages and no one was fully developed and Hosanna was way too awesome to be real. I think the Black Stallion was more realistic, and that should be saying something. However, I'm going to read the rest of the trilogy. Just because.