Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted here at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out-of-print, etc. Everyone is welcome to join in at any time! I include roundups from participating bloggers in my post every week.
Reading Order: Blood Red Horse, Green Jasper, and Blaze of Silver
How about that cover! That cover had me at hello. With the crusaders coming on and the golden keyhole doorway? The title and tagline--"Two boys. One girl. The adventure of a lifetime"--didn't hurt either. I passed it on an endcap in a bookstore almost exactly four years ago. I actually completed an about face when I saw it, coming to a screeching halt to admire the general loveliness. The book actually came out in 2004, but it took me a couple of years to cotton onto it. I'll tell you one thing though--I didn't leave the bookstore that day without purchasing a copy. Blood Red Horse is the first in the De Granville Trilogy written by Scottish author K.M. Grant. I love a good yarn set during the time of Richard the Lionheart and have run across few really excellent YA versions. This is one of them. Yet I don't think I've ever talked to anyone else who's read this book or the trilogy. It's a shame because it's well written, well researched, and equally appealing to boys and girls as it features such a strong trio of main characters and not a little fighting on the grand scale. When I first read it, the sequel Green Jasper had just come out and so I was able to scarf that one down immediately following this one. It was just as good as, and even more complex than the first.
Gavin and Will de Granville have been battling each other since they came into this world. As the elder brother, Gavin is heir to their father's lands and title and destined to be betrothed to Ellie. An orphan daughter of their father's friend (and an heiress in her own right), Ellie was raised alongside the brothers. She is best friends with easygoing Will and yet has known her whole life she would one day marry prickly Gavin. Taken together, the relationships between these three young people are complicated in the extreme. Then there is Will's horse Hosanna. Deep red in color, with an unusual white star on his forehead, this smallish warhorse captures Will's heart instantly and will be the instrument of bringing so many disparate lives together. When the Crusade enters the picture, another level of fear and uncertainty come into their lives. At seventeen, Will is knighted, Gavin and Ellie are officially betrothed, and the two boys set off with their father Sir Thomas on the adventure of a lifetime, leaving Ellie behind to manage their home at Hartslove and ensure it will still be around for them to return to. If they return at all. In their absence, Ellie learns quite a lot of things the hard way. Among them, the ability to write. And so she begins writing letters to Will, hoping they reach him and bring him some small measure of comfort in a foreign land so very far away.
Grant tells a ripping good story. A story of the two brothers who went away to war, of the girl they left behind, and of the wonderful warhorse Hosanna. Will and Ellie are only twelve when it begins, and Gavin just a couple of years older. But by the end the three have grown into adulthood and faced the kind of challenges and grief many people twice their age haven't handled. The chapters alternate between Gavin and Will's experiences in the Holy Land, Ellie's struggles at home in England, and the story of a young man named Kamil who is servant to the Saracen leader Saladin and who is destined to have his own encounter with the blood red horse. Because of this structure, the pace never gets tired, and I found myself always eager to find out what was happening on each front. For those of you who are not keen on talking animals or magical beings, never fear. Hosanna neither talks nor shifts nor casts any kind of spell on those around him but that of loyalty and steadfastness. He is certainly the glue that binds them together and he links the young men's different stories quite nicely. The love triangle exists as an undercurrent here, gaining much more momentum and richness in the next volume, which is my favorite. But I love that they are brothers and that the girl they have the good sense to love so much is worth it. Ellie is strong and good and she does what it takes to look after those in her care. She makes the hard decisions and she makes them after taking everything into account. And the brothers are somehow adversarial, unsure, outrageous, and true all at the same time. You think you know who they really are and then they surprise you. This is just a wonderful start to a beguiling trilogy set against a a fascinating and harrowing period of history. It deserves far more attention than it's gotten.
Retro Friday Roundup
Chachic's Book Nook reviews The Changeover by Margaret Mahy