The Legend of the Great Horse
by John Royce
Eclipsed by Shadow is the first book of the historical adventure trilogy, The Legend of the Great Horse, a journey through the ages when horses were everyday companions in work, war, sport and spectacle. The story is told through the eyes of a young woman, a horse-crazy teenager traveling through time with a knowledge of 21st Century horsemanship as her only defense.
So I know what you're thinking, and it's probably "her horsemanship had better be fantastic." Or maybe that was just me?
Eclipsed by Shadow is a rollicking historical action adventure through time. Awesome, right? It's even young adult! And it incorporates a flying horse! What more could I need in life? I'm not exactly one for fantasy, but this book is heavy on the historical, and being a history and classical studies girl, I guess this just hit my complicated array of switches, levers and buttons.
Let's begin! This book starts off in the present, with Meagan eagerly anticipating the birth of a foal. She names this foal Promise, and if you read this book and think the first chapter smacks of Dancer by Shelley Peterson, I would definitely agree with you. It's got that theatrical, hunky-dory quality that confounds me to no end. It's also a little slow going, meandering its way to the eventual reveal that Promise is not what she seems. Promise is the next Great Horse (like Bucephalus and Secretariat before her), and there are all these prophecies and conspiracies that surface just as Promise is reaching her third birthday. Certain parties want to buy the horse, and another certain party -- a kindly grandmother character -- informs Meagan in detail of everything you wanted to know about Great Horses, but not enough for Meagan to be secure in owning one. The big message is do not ride Promise, because this will inexplicably create a trip to the dark ages. Meagan isn't sure what to think of any of this, so when she is forced to ride Promise in order to get away from a threatening situation (Dancer rears its ugly head) and finds herself in the dark ages...she's probably kicking herself.
Did I mention this is a trilogy? If not, it is. This is an epic labor of love, and in this installment we go to a few places and time periods: North America (20,000 BC), the Black Sea (700 BC), Rome (100 AD) and Central Asia (1240 AD). The next book apparently includes Spanish Conquistadors, Versailles, and "Merry Olde" England.
Meagan stumbles her way through North America and the Black Sea rather quickly, landing in Rome so we can immediately get into their exceedingly blood thirsty sporting events. Like I said, I'm a classics person. I know way more about Rome than I should. (Like when the kindly grandmother character said Caligula "was considered dangerously insane" I laughed. Because sure he fed his horse buttered mice and oats mixed with gold, but he didn't make his horse a consul because he thought he would make excellent decisions for the Roman people...I mean, come on. That said, he was crazy. Very, very crazy.) However, the notion that Rome was a "savage nation" as the chapter title suggests, annoys me within the context of this book, because the dark ages (the time period Meagan is supposed to be visiting, presumably) was the collapse of society (if you want to look at it that way) after the fall of Rome. Meaning that Rome was actually an antithesis of a savage nation. And Meagan shouldn't be there to begin with.
But I'm going on about my own hang ups. I still liked the section, but not as much as I liked the last chapter, where Meagan helps a knight get over his fear of horses and onto the path to tournament greatness. Also, she smacks someone who tries to call her a whore, which earned this (and her) tons of points in my book.
My only serious criticism is that this book is slow in parts. The first chapter drags and is way too heavy on horse history. It picks itself up dramatically as it goes along, however, and is definitely a worthy read. Honestly, I have to be amazed by the scope of this whole trilogy and the research that went into it. I'm sure some will be interested in certain sections pertaining to their interests, as I was with the Rome section in this book, and will be with the England section in the next book. This book would have been a great addition to the opening of The Horse exhibit at the Carnegie Museum, actually. It's too bad it wasn't included.
www.thegreathorse.com for more information. Also available on www.amazon.com.
Eclipsed by Shadow received the Young Adult 2009 Eric Hoffer Award.