Saturday, September 18, 2010

Susanna Kearsley: The Shadowy Horses

This was my second foray into Kearsley's work after having read Named of the Dragon. The Shadowy Horses was published in 1997, so it falls into the category of newer Gothic Novels. It is one written "in the tradition of Barbara Michaels" according to its cover. The cover reminds me of some of Michaels' recent book covers.

Verity Grey finds herself in Scotland for an archaeological dig. A boy with psychic abilities has seen a ghostly sentinel in the area, and the head of the dig, Peter Quinnell, believes the lost Roman Ninth Legion is there. Other characters include the handsome David Fortune, Verity's old lover Adrian, the disliked Brian McMorran and his friendly wife Jeannie, and the lovely Fabia, to name a few.

Mysteries abound about the ruins and the tower, potsherds, and coins that are found there. On top of these puzzles, ghostly horses ride at night, and Verity herself experiences the sentinel's presence. What danger awaits them all? Are unearthly or human forces trying to make the team leave the excavations?

Characterization: 4/5 [The characterization is nicely done for the most part. Each character seems real and round. Verity Grey-- love that name!- I pictured as Jennifer Love Hewitt, and David Fortune would be played by someone like Colin Firth. Peter Quinnell might be portrayed by Anthony Hopkins.]

Plot: 3/5 [It must just be me, but this novel did not pick up or take off for me until around page 120. I stuck with it because of the good bits here and there, but Kearsley's plotting is, well, plodding, to me. I think she could use more slight cliffhanger chapter endings and other devices to keep readers' interest early on in the novel. Perhaps I am the only reader of this opinion, though, as others seem to rave about her work.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 4/5 [Things didn't feel spooky to me either really until that late point in the novel. Kearsley's atmosphere falls flat for a while even with the ghostly devices, but at least they are there. I did get a chill a few times in reading post page 120. I just wonder why it took so long for things to heat up.]

Literary: 5/5 [Yes, the poetry alone that is quoted as well as the numbering of the sections in the novel by horse numbers (First Horse, for example, with a bit of poetry and so on, much like Stewart's Nine Coaches Waiting has chapters numbered by coaches) is wonderful. The section headings make me think of doom, Apocalypse, etc. The novel is also rich with history of Scotland and of the Romans.]

Romance? Yes, and Kearsley manages to make it a bit suspenseful and interesting.

Rating: 4 stars  ****

** I recommend this one, and I see hints of Barbara Michaels, but to me, Kearsley doesn't build the type of spooky atmosphere that grips me and holds me, propelling me through the pages. It took me about about two weeks to finish it where most Michaels' novels and other favorite Gothics were about three days. :) I am sure most would recommend it, and it is fairly lengthy at over 350 pages-- one of those novels you can savor.


jwade19 said...

This was the first Kearsley I ever read, and it got me immediately hooked on her. I think that she shares many attributes with Michaels and with Mary Stewart. For this one, I feel she's closest to Stewart in her style of writing. I admit I'm very, very partial to Kearsley, since she writes EXACTLY the kind of books I long to read, and can't often find. Fall of 2011 will find us with a new Kearsley novel, "The Rose Garden", which features a ghost, some time travel and a cottage in Cornwall...I am counting the minutes....

lisalgreer said...

J, that next novel, 'The Rose Garden,' sounds great. :) I am going to read 'Mariana' next. It's in my big stack. So, next means... well, who knows when... in the next three months. HA.

She is definitely talented, and it is neat how we can see which writers remind us most closely of our favorites...

Carolannkg said...

I don't think I've met a Susanna Kearsley I don't like yet! For that real gothic experience though I would choose Marianna and Sophia's Secret (also published as The Winter Sea)

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