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REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

“With its dark legends and passionate history, the windswept shores of Scotland are an archaeologist’s dream. Verity Grey is thrilled by the challenge of uncovering an ancient Roman campsite in a small village. But as soon as she arrives, she can sense danger in the air.

Her eccentric boss is convinced he’s finally found the resting place of the lost Ninth Legion – not because of any scientific evidence but because a local boy has “seen” a Roman soldier walking in the fields. Surprisingly Verity believes in the boy, and even in the ghostly Sentinel, who seems determined to become her protector…but from what?”

Dear Ms. Kearsley,

I had never read any of your novels before so was unsure of your writing style. In fact, I hadn’t even read any of our reviews here because I didn’t want to prejudge or have expectations for when I eventually – and I just KNEW that one day I would – tried one of your books. The experience was fantastic and I’m glad I already have a list of titles to go back and sample. Since I can’t just do a review that says, “What Sunita said in her three reviews.” here goes my effort.

Within the first chapter, I was already thinking “Mary Stewart style” and a glance at authors to whom you’ve been compared confirms I’m not the only one. I adore Stewart’s contemporary era books with her practical, sensible heroines. And what better, more evocative Stewart-ish heroine name could there be besides Verity? Which of course also goes well with Roman theme of book. There are lots of truths to be discovered here. Is there actually something buried to be unearthed and identified at the dig site? Was it a Roman marching camp or another sort of settlement that would rule out the presence of the legendary Ninth Legion? Can the group believe in what Robbie says? And who is behind several little problems that have occurred on the site?

the shadowy horsesI’m endlessly fascinated with archeology and the quest to know more about our past regardless of where in the world the dig may be. But like Verity, I want to know not only what artifacts were left where but more about the people behind them. I’m afraid once I discovered that young Robbie might be able to communicate with the dead Roman sentry, I would have been sorely tempted to ask him to convey messages and impressions too. Just think of what you could ask someone who lived 1800 years ago!

Peter is someone I pictured as being like Peter O’Toole – charming, forceful, gentlemanly, and yes eccentric in that effortless aristocratic way who could also nicely manipulate an army into doing whatever he wanted and have them actually excited over the prospect. But all the characters here came to life for me. Even the ones only briefly in the action were captured with succinct precision that told me everything I needed to know. I also loved the old Scottish house where you have to be introduced to the (no doubt) eccentric plumbing. There’s such a wonderful sense of atmosphere, especially in Quinnell’s ground floor retreat with its dark paint, comfortable, cracked old leather sofas and two cats draped over the lot.

The paranormal aspect of the book might be a deal breaker or off putting to some readers. Early in the book, this begins to be gently introduced, so that I had already started to buy into the Sentinel before he finally, truly shows up. Little bits and pieces of the picture have been included in earlier scenes, hints that get the reader to think about it, gradually accept it and, when it finally arrives, you believe – totally. It’s like you’ve been gently lead down a path and it’s all you can do. It’s natural by then. At first it is eerie and a bit hair raising to think about someone actually being a Sentinel, watching all the time. That is until his true nature emerges at which point he becomes something of a friend. And after all, the dog has liked him from the start.

The writing is smooth and effortless. Descriptive but not overwrought. Sometimes an excess of adjectives can be worse than too little. This is not the case here and it was a delight to just sit down and enjoy the process of reading, already knowing I was in good hands.

I could see the lovely potential romance because Verity knows the truth about archeology – it’s not usually fedoras and whips and wild trips through danger in exotic and remote locations racing for gold idols. It’s a science, it’s dedication, it’s hard work and it sounds like David, in fact. Okay, that sort of makes him sound a bit stodgy but he’s not. He’s such a solid, all around good guy who can be counted on for whatever needs doing. I am not a fan of mental lusting and feel it it is too intrusive and takes up far too much space in a lot of books. I don’t mind a closed bedroom door if the strength of attachment has already been established. The romance here gets time and space to warm up and since I totally believe Davy and Verity’s growing feelings for each other, I am confident that they burned up the sheets just fine without me being there.

Beyond the mystery of the archaeological dig – what might be found there, how the situation could be explained historically – there’s another one that is woven through the story but it’s very unobtrusive. Almost too unobtrusive as there were times it almost completely faded into the background. Still the clues are there so when it finally comes out into the open, it’s more an “ah, yes, of course” rather than a WTF? Again, it’s very in keeping with this style of mystery, with danger being present but not a modern, vicious danger that would spoil the reading. A serial killer just wouldn’t fit the feel of this story.

So a smooth, descriptive style, characters who breathe on the page, attention paid to the details of the action and the characters’ professions, a little humor, an intense growing love, a willingness on my part to believe the paranormal, they all lead to a great reading experience. Plus new Scots words to add to my vocabulary! It’s an all around win. B+

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

34 Comments

  1. DS
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 07:54:17

    Fantastic book. I’m not entering to win a copy because I have at least three. This is a book I loan out a lot and hunt those down who don’t bring it back.

  2. Simone St. James
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 07:59:13

    I’m not entering either, because I already own this one. I love this book!

  3. Renee Q
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 08:43:36

    I adored The Winter Sea and will gladly enter the contest for this one! Thanks for the head’s up!

  4. Renee Q
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 08:51:18

    Jayne- the entry box doesn’t seem to be loading!

  5. Barb in Maryland
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 09:01:56

    Echoing Renee Q–the entry box is stuck in some sort of loop and won’t finish loading.

    I’m also not entering because, like several others who posted before I did, I already have this book on my keeper shelf. I loved it!

  6. Lindsay W.
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 10:00:46

    Oops, it looks like it entered me twice — I signed up using Facebook, got caught in the infinite loop so signed up using just my email… came back and it said oh no you didn’t enter, clicked again and now my name’s there twice. I’m so sorry!

  7. Christine
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 10:10:40

    This is a fantastic book and a solid A+ for me! Like previous posters I am not entering because I already own it and would love to see new readers exposed to this book. I recommend this book to any Barbara Michaels fans as it really captures the spirit of her romantic suspense novels (without being derivative). It has supernatural elements but nothing frightening or gory. It’s also has (IMHO) one of Susanna Kearsley’s best romance pairings in it. This book is both intelligent and charming and a real gem for any reader who enjoys this genre- which is sadly underrepresented these days. I’ve also heard Ms. Kearsley is working on a “sequel” of sorts involving young Robbie from this book grown up. I can’t wait. Thanks for reviewing this one!

  8. Stephanie Ball
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 10:17:47

    I would be very interested in receiving a copy of this book to review. I loved the only book of hers i have read, Winter Sea. Thank you for the opportunity.

  9. erinf1
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 11:37:54

    thanks for a great review! I’ve been eyeing this book and I have at least 2 others by her in my TBR pile.

  10. Belinda P
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 11:53:28

    I look forward to reading this book. Thanks for giveaway/contest.

  11. Jane
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 12:41:06

    @Lindsay W.: No worries. We’ll take care of it.

    Is the endless loop still happening?

  12. Julie
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 12:49:16

    Thanks for the review!

  13. Wanda Sue
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 13:07:47

    I’d love to read this book! Anything remotely like those beloved Mary Stewart romantic suspense classics is like fresh blood through these old veins. How do I enter the contest?

  14. Kim in Hawaii
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 13:19:20

    Aloha, Jayne! I requested to review this book because of its reference to Roman antiquities and Scottish countryside. Loved it for the same reasons as you have written. In fact, I came to appreciate the differences between the “Scots” – those who inhabit the Borderlands and their “Gaelic” cousins in the Highlanders. I don’t have the book with me to quote it – Susanna wrote a great line for Robbie’s grandfather about stealing cows.

  15. DA Recommended Reads for October 2012
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 14:00:08

    [...] REVIEW and GIVEAWAY: The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley [...]

  16. Julie
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 14:41:27

    The review has got me very interested in reading this book, I have never read anything by Susanna Kearsley. I am so glad that Lauren Willig has something about this on her page.

  17. Jayne
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 16:44:21

    @Kim in Hawaii: Was that the line about a “Highlander in a kilt” sneaking past his house in the early hours of the morning? I loved Robbie’s grandfather. And his mother. I also liked that his father ends up being a better guy than I initially thought he would be.

  18. Jayne
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 16:45:27

    @Christine: Oooh, great news about the sequel. I’ll be watching for that.

  19. Sunita
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 17:26:02

    Oh yay, I’m so glad you liked it! I thought you would like Kearsley’s style and content, but one never knows. Her work has such broad appeal, though. My husband was having trouble finding something he wanted to read, so he picked this up and immediately became hooked. I asked him what he thought after he finished, because he knows how much I like her work, but we don’t always have the same tastes. He said, more or less, that it was such a pleasure to read a book that was just GOOD. No tricks, no pyrotechnics, just great writing and characters.

  20. Jayne
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 17:31:08

    @Sunita:

    He said, more or less, that it was such a pleasure to read a book that was just GOOD. No tricks, no pyrotechnics, just great writing and characters.

    THIS. Exactly. I could just relax and let the story take me away.

  21. Jayne
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 17:34:04

    @Renee Q: @Barb in Maryland: @Wanda Sue: Did you ladies manage to get signed up for the giveaway?

  22. Kim in Hawaii
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 18:17:13

    @Jayne: Yes, the grandfather’s observation was an unexpected laugh. I agree that Brian was redeemed. And the paranormal aspect was just right for me – I thought the sentinel became a metaphor for the characters to hold onto what is important to them.

  23. Susan
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 19:33:34

    Thanks for the great review. I’ve had this on my wish list for awhile and would very much like to read it.

  24. Wanda Sue
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 19:59:09

    @jane. yes, i was able to enter! thanks!

  25. peggy h
    Oct 04, 2012 @ 21:30:43

    Not entering this contest because I already have (and loved) this book–I’m just thrilled to see more of Susanna’s backlist becoming available! I bought Splendour Falls last month and have been hoarding it as I will be on a 14-hour flight next week–I should be dreading the long flight but now I can’t wait! :)

  26. kbrum
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 01:27:29

    um… i filled in the box to enter the contest but can’t see any evidence that my info made it through.

    i’d love to be in the running, though. Kearsely’s books are great – big thanks to Sunnita for finding me a new author.

  27. Rosario
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 01:38:53

    @Christine: That’s how I discovered it, someone mentioned it as a book that would appeal to people who like Barbara Michaels. It remains my favourite, even though I’ve now read and loved all of Kearsley’s books.

  28. Marg
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 06:04:30

    I am so glad to see new people getting the chance to discover just how lovely Susanna Kearsley’s books are! Can’t wait for the next book to come out! And I am pretty sure that it was Rosario who first introduced me to this fab author!

  29. Rosario
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 08:01:09

    @Marg: I wouldn’t be surprised, I make everyone I know read her! :-D

  30. Marg
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 08:38:47

    @Rosario:

    Yes, me too! Sometimes with a little too much insistence!

  31. Kris Bock
    Oct 05, 2012 @ 17:07:23

    I love archaeology and I love Mary Stewart! (In fact, she’s my role model as a writer, and my second book, Whispers in the Dark, features an archaeologist at ancient ruins in the southwestern United States.) I’ll definitely be checking out this book.

  32. Jayne
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 03:48:00

    @Rosario: Can Barbara Michaels fans weigh in on favorites of hers for me to check out?

  33. susan j
    Oct 06, 2012 @ 20:35:07

    Read Ms. Kearsley’s Winter Sea based on Sunita’s review. Enjoyed the book very much. Looking forward to reading The Shadowy Horses. I really appreciate all of the reviews at Dear Author, you have introduced me to some great authors! Thanks for the giveaway opportunity.

  34. Lana
    Sep 29, 2013 @ 10:26:34

    I really enjoyed your review – I spent a lot of it going “what she said!”. And I definitely kept seeing Peter Quinnell as Peter O’Toole. So handsome!
    I just fell in love with all the characters (particularly Davy and Robbie) and I loved when Robbie got all embarrassed over his crush on Verity.

    I’ve linked to your review at my blog, hope you don’t mind!

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