A debut literary novel combines horse breeding and Native American folklore.
Arizona, 1993. Guy Thornton has reached the end of his rope: Fresh from a four-month stint in jail, he now sits in a Cave Creek tavern, slamming down beers and harassing the bartender for more. The former horse trainer is still smarting from the collapse of his career, particularly when he’s warned against returning to his old stables: “It was all sinking in: he had no job, now, no prospects, and nothing to show for the past three years, no horse, no future, no dreams.” Guy goes to the nearby O’odham reservation looking for a former co-worker—he wants help stealing a horse that he believes by all rights to be his—but he soon finds himself face to face with an old O’odham woman who takes him to her remote home. In the desert, she teaches Guy the ways of her people, including the notion of Tribe Spirit (the collective good). His education alternates with flashbacks of his work before jail: his job at Frank Fielding’s stables; the business plans (and more) he hatched with the man’s wife, Lily; the prize Arabian named Tristan that Guy sees as the key to his future; and Lily’s impulsive and unpredictable 15-year-old sister, Rose. In this series opener, Kelly’s prose effectively evokes the landscapes of Arizona, both physical and cultural: “The weight of tree branches overhead, their topmost, naked limbs thatched with eagle’s nests, the high, scarred mesas rising from the river’s edge, the brown water, all seemed from some time in the distant past, when the O’odham and Yavapai had farmed and the Apaches had raided this same fertile river valley.” The novel moves quickly, and the characters are generally complex enough to draw readers in. But the use of O’odham characters and culture feels a bit exploitative, fitting the cliché of a lost white hero finding salvation through Native American teachings and rituals. The story ends on a cliffhanger, setting up the sequel.
An Arizona-set tale of redemption that follows familiar patterns.