I love fantasy. The real stuff, with dragons and swords and sorcery. I want to read about good defeating evil. And magic. Give me magic – a young mage who with study, hard work, sacrifice and talent can overcome the wicked magician, the cruel overlord, the deceptive official. Yet, every once in a while one of those novels of magical realism catches me unaware. The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shephard is such a book.
The Secret Horses is set in England during World War II. Emmaline, the protagonist, has been sent to an estate in the country that is serving as a hospital for children with TB. When she arrives, she realizes there is another world behind the mirrors, one inhabited by winged horses. Only Emmaline can see the horses.
As the novel unfolds, Emmaline’s health worsens, the world of the horses is revealed, and slowly Emmaline’s own history unfolds, too. Megan Shephard spun a web of magic that caught me. I loved Emmaline. I fell into her world and the world of the winged horses. I believed. I hoped. I prayed. And in the end, I just didn’t know.
To build a world so real – and yet like a gossamer thread – so unreal, is a gift. It creates a story that lingers, both with what it shows and with what it keeps hidden.
I still like my fantasy high and swash-buckling. I like good to win, even when it’s a very close thing. But the books that leave me wondering – those are breath taking in their own way. If you haven’t, read The Secret Horses of Briar Hill, do. You won’t be sorry.