Delacorte Books for Young Readers
October 11, 2016
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There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital. In the mirrors that line its grand hallways, which once belonged to a princess. In those that reflect the elegant rooms, now filled with sick children. It is her secret.
One morning, when Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens, she discovers something incredible: a white horse with broken wings has left the mirror-world and entered her own.
Tucked into the garden’s once-gleaming sundial, Emmaline finds a letter from the Horse Lord. He is hiding the wounded white horse, named Foxfire, from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep the Black Horse from finding her new friend, she must collect colorful objects with which to blind him. But where can Emmaline find color when her world is filled with gray?
In her author's note at the end of the book, Megan Shepherd mentions books like The Secret Garden, "which combined reality with dreams, history with fantasy, darkness with heart, and, most of all, contained true magic." It is what she has created with The Secret Horses of Briar Hill.
Emmaline, Briar Hill hospital, the other children, the nuns, Thomas, and the World War II setting combine to form this magical, fantastical, but also realistic and identifiable world. The winged horses Emmaline sees in the hospital's mirrors are that final bit of (perfect) magic.
The book has enough basis in fact - with the children at a remote mansion turned into a hospital during the war - that it's recognizable and something you can identify with. I loved Emmaline's character from her love of horses (those in the real world and those in the mirror world), how she couldn't be contained by the Sister's rules and the house but needed the outdoors, even with the danger that posed, but most of all I loved her heart. Her love for Anna, her belief in the horses, even if no one else believes, and her refusal to give up or give in make her a truly endearing character.
I love the way that magic and fantasy blend with reality and fact - and that it is not always clear where, or even if, there is a line between the two. The juxtaposition of wartime Britain with its air raids and gas masks with Emmaline's winged horses in the mirrors, of the gray with rainbows of color was brilliantly done.
The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is another wonderfully written book by Megan Shepherd full of real magic, heartfelt characters and a world you won't forget.
digital review copy received, via NetGalley, thanks to publisher