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K M Grant's website
Last year I went to a literary party (not something I generally do, opportunities being few and far between) but while I was there, someone told me that as I liked horses I must read book X by Y. Yes, I said, excited at the thought of a new author. I then promptly forgot the name of the book and the author, and who had told me about it. This year, I went to the British Museum exhibition on The Horse, and the shop had a copy of K M Grant's Blood Red Horse. This, I am pretty certain, is X. Thank you, unknown person, for recommending it. For it is a cracker.
It is set at the time of the Crusades, but opens in England. Will and his elder brother Gavin are knights: at least Gavin is, and Will wants to be. He needs a horse though; a great horse, and he is to choose one from the many his father has bred. The horse Will chooses, Hosanna, is blood red, and he is small, not a thundering and majestic creature like those Will's father and brother ride. Gavin misses no chance to tease Will about the horse, but Will is unrepentant. And Ellie, who is supposed to marry Gavin, but seems to have a great deal more in common with Will, supports him.
Virtually the whole household: father, brothers, knights, squires and a whole herd of horses, go off to the Crusades. K M Grant does not spare the reader the detail of what war meant. Transporting the horses to the Holy Land via sea is at times horrific. The war is grim; each side is as human, and cruel, as the other.
K M Grant refuses to be bound by any easy conventions. People on both sides behave barbarically: we can see why they do. Both sides behave nobly; and again we can see why that is. I loved the subtleties of this book, and the insight K M Grant gives into the results of her characters' behaviour. The men sail off to war, full of noble intentions, but Ellie is left, and she is vulnerable to predators.
Hosanna is the impartial horse around whom much of the action revolves. When he is captured by the Saracens, and taken over by the vengeful Kamil. I had a fleeting vision of Hosanna finding his own way back to his beloved master, Will, but Hosanna finds Kamil as good a master as Will, and is as fond of him as he is of Will. We all like to think our animals are specially fond of us, but of course they do not think as we do, and they are not little humans with hooves.
I always wonder, when reading historical novels, quite how much modern day sensibilities affect what's written. As I suspect the author holds pretty much the same views I do myself, it's even harder to judge: lacking any real sense of the period myself, I'm left in the author's hands. Nevertheless, that was a place I was happy to be throughout the novel.
Blood Red Horse is the first of a series; there are two further books, Green Jasper and Blade of Silver, and a connector set much later, Hartslove.
To see all of K M Grant's horse-related stories, see her page on my website.