Belinda Rapley: Phantom, One Last Chance (The Pony Detectives)
Templar Publishing, 2012, £4.99
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy of this book
Has fantasy flapped its way out of the pony book world? It's been a while since a new series popped up with unicorns or magical ponies. Maybe the way is set now for a return to pony-based adventure, like Belinda Rapley's Pony Detectives series. It's a series of eminently readable pony books, based on a small yard where all the girls are friends. Phantom, One Last Chance, is the fourth of the series, all of which have been issued this year. Charlie has outgrown her little bay pony, Pirate, and she has a new horse on loan, Phantom. Things had been going well with Phantom: so well in fact that she'd competed on him. Matters have taken a nose dive, however. Phantom's not engaging with Charlie, and she's certainly not engaging with him. Neither of them trust each other, and if truth be told, Charlie is scared of Phantom. She really wants an easy, trustworthy pony like Pirate, but she has to put Pirate out on loan, and she only wants to do that if the right person comes along, and so far they haven't. She's a girl with problems.
And matters don't get better: they get worse. Phantom runs away with Charlie, and she falls off. She is too scared to get back on him, and begins to think he'll have to go back. But when they meet tragic Neve, who has come to live with her grandparents now that her mother has died, Neve can handle Phantom with no problems. Maybe the problem isn't Phantom after all? And what is the mystery that surrounds Neve? Has she met Phantom before? And who is the mysterious person who visits the yard when the girls are out?
There are plenty of mysteries for Charlie, Mia, Rosie and Alice to solve, and plenty for them to learn too. Belinda Rapley observes her characters well, and I particularly enjoyed the way Charlie slowly starts to sort out her relationship with Phantom. Fear can easily scupper a relationship between horse and rider, but Belinda Rapley doesn't offer any pat solutions. Charlie has to work at it, and she does, by observing what Phantom does, and giving him time. The other girls' reactions to this are neatly done. They know full well what's going on with Charlie, but they don't make life difficult for her. The inter-actions of this group of girls are interesting. The group is strong enough to absorb newcomer Neve, who is suffering as she mourns her mother, and misses her home. The girls' basic affection for each other is what comes over, and this makes the book a comfortable place for the reader to learn more about ponies, and have fun along the way.
I hope Belinda Rapley goes on to write more of this series. I don't think you'd go far wrong giving any of the books to a pony-loving child from seven upwards.