I was kindly sent Victoria Eveleigh’s new pony novel by her publishers, Orion, as I’ve read, enjoyed and reviewed her Katy books and A Stallion Called Midnight. Like the Katy books, the Joe books are going to be a trilogy, so there’s room here for enough character development and background story to make for a satisfying set of reads.
As I’ve said before, Eveleigh’s books are very much of the old school of pony book. No talking horses or fairy dust; any magic is conveyed through the joy of the relationship between horse and rider, and familiar themes like moving to the country and hoping to get some riding in are subtly updated (here, Joe is convincingly thrown into despair by the lack of an internet connection) and also slightly subverted (in this book, it’s Mum who’s most excited at the possibility of an equine purchase or two). As Eveleigh herself did, and explains in a nice note at the back of the book, I grew up reading classic pony books that featured girl and boy main characters – My Friend Flicka and the Black Stallion books being just two, and as Joe opines in the book, where do all the male jockeys, eventers and police riders come from if no boys ride? I’m not sure that this question is answered in this book, as the pony world is a fairly female one, although we have a nice male role model in the person of Chris, the farrier.
In fact, the role models are nicely done, with an older, Romany woman providing pony lore and quiet support as well as Chris and some other characters. There’s a good amount of information on various horse stuff which flows naturally out of the story rather than being bolted on, including some interesting up to date thinking on “barefoot horses”. There’s also a purposeful blindness to colour which extends across horses and people (and provided a twinge of recognition as the phrase “A good horse is never a bad colour” which was borne out by the mention in the afterword of Mark Rashid, whose book of that name I read and reviewed recently).
As with her other books, Eveleigh writes excellent young people as well as convincing horses and riders. Joe’s worries over having to “make” friends as opposed to growing up with them is treated well, and his assumptions are undermined. The use of his hobby of Aikido is inspired, as it allows some gentle lesson learning and introduces another gentle and positive male role model in the shape of the Aikido sensei in the local town. The relationship between Joe and his younger sister is also very well drawn and rounded, with all the ins and outs of sibling rivalry and protection, and some interesting plot developments.
There’s a lot to like in this book, and I’m very much looking forward to the sequels to this story. This book could be enjoyed by boys and girls. I was a little unsure about the mix of “YA” style typeface and “gentler” looking boy on the cover, but I think this makes it appeal to all sorts of readers (and it’s nice that the horses match the horses in the book, which doesn’t always happen). Oh, yes, and adults, too!
A couple of other acquisitions before I go. We were in the supermarket the other day when I saw these two. And then the “kitty” owed me a tenner over the purchase of some cheese over the internet (don’t ask … in fact do ask, and watch this space for a post about cheese coming soon!) and so a newspaper and two books had me all paid back and neat and tidy. And they don’t count, right … because I have read all of Marian Keyes’ books and I have been wanting to pick up Clare Balding’s autobiography for ages …