An outstanding debut novel for young people by retired amateur steeplechase jockey Hambleton, who uses her knowledge of horses and the equestrian world to tell of the tragedies and triumphs that befall a thoroughbred racehorse—from the horse’s point of view.
Reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century classic, Black Beauty, in its deeply felt narrative as voiced by a thoroughbred racehorse, this first-time novel for ages 11 and up is written with empathy and a vivid sense of drama by Hambleton, a lifelong equestrian and former amateur steeplechase jockey. Raja, a promising foal of distinguished lineage, bears the “Mark of the Chieftain” on his forehead. Bedouin legend has it that such a mark predicts either “great glory” or “great despair” for a horse, and Raja assumes that his road to glory is assured after triumphs on the track as a 2-year-old lead to early Kentucky Derby buzz. But the world of racing has a dark side. An injury, sparked by Raja’s fear of thunderstorms, drops the sensitive horse into obscurity and worse. What follows is a colorful succession of owners and riders (good and bad), a brush with horse drugging and the ugly reality of “kill buyers,” who purchase former racehorses for their meat. Friends and enemies, both human and equine, appear and reappear in Raja’s life as fate takes him far from his pampered youth. Along the way, the elegant horse learns dressage, Cossack trick riding, the exhilarating art of steeplechase—and the depth of his own courage. Hambleton’s compelling prose—deftly interwoven with technical realities and the emotional investment inherent in horse training, racing, care and ridership—is accompanied by a glossary of horse-world terms and evocative pencil drawings by Margaret Kauffman, a professional sculptor and horsewoman. Lifelong equestrian Hambleton makes an impressive outing as a first-time author of juvenile fiction, weaving her knowledge and love of horses, horsemanship and the world of competitive racing into a moving narrative that will keep fellow horse-loving readers of any age enthralled.