|Silverhorse by Lene Kaaberbol|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: A stunningly well-told thriller-fantasy with role reversal, a strong female lead character and some interesting questions about the nature of power. Highly recommended for the early teens.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: March 2007|
|Publisher: Macmillan Children's Books|
In the post apocalyptic world of Breda, only women are allowed to own land or to settle on it. Men, who once led civilisation to the most amazing technological prowess, proved unworthy. The seas rose up and swallowed his cities and after generations of suffering, the few that survived built a new society, based on respect for the land and the nurturing of women. Men are itinerants and women hold the power.
Kat's mother, Tess, is one of Breda's powerful women. She is the Maestra of the Crowfoot Inn on the very borders of Breda, close to the mountains. Kat is a restless child and finds it difficult to settle. She can't get along with the man her mother has chosen to protect her land. Cornelius is a rough ex-mercenary and Kat hates both his discipline and his closeness to her mother.
So one night, when a strange, scarred woman appears at the inn bringing with her a beautiful silver hellhorse, Kat knows that she wants nothing more than to forget her birthright and become a wanderer, a Bredinari, or defender of the law, with a hellhorse of her own. She uses the token that the scarred woman gives her and becomes an apprentice at the Bredinari Academy. But things aren't easy for Kat. Her quick temper gets her into trouble and a dangerous secret puts her very life at risk.
I loved Silverhorse. Kat is a wonderful central character - determined, courageous, opinionated and defiant. She grabs life and experiences it to the absolute full. But she also has many flaws and plenty of lessons to learn. Reading, you really feel both for her and with her. The tension takes a while to grab you, but when it does, you're racing the book just as Kat herself would were she reading it.
There are many themes - the sexism in Breda society's role reversal, the snobbery of city folk towards country bumpkins, learning to control one's vices and make the most of one's virtues, the danger of keeping secrets. But they are all accessible to confident readers of ten and up and not too naive for the mid teens. Kaaberbol has my utmost admiration for translating this work herself. The vocabulary is spot on and there isn't a trace of modern sensibilities in her characters. They are all utterly believable products of her imagined world.
There are also some enjoyable and obviously Scandinavian sensibilites - I just can't imagine many British writers talking about castrated men pretending to be women in a matriarchal society or having their junior schoolchildren indulging their rivalries by emptying buckets of urine over each other's beds and calling the chapter The Pee Wars. We need more of this!
The Pee Wars notwithstanding, Silverhorse is a great read, with a strong heroine, a taut plot and a wonderfully realised setting. There is another book about Kat in the pipeline and I shall look forward to reading it.
My thanks to the publisher, Macmillan, for sending the book.
Another compelling female character can be found in Kevin Crossley-Holland's Gatty's Tale and those who like their fantasy characters to make danger-filled journeys may also enjoy D M Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo.
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