The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill by Megan Shepherd

Release Date: October 11, 2016
Illustrated by: Levi Pinfold
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Rated: MG 11+
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Buy: AmazonThe Book Depository
Goodreads Website

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?

I really loved The Madman's Daughter series by Megan Shepherd, so when I heard that she was writing a middle grade novel I knew I had to get my hands on a copy. Unfortunately due to busy times, getting to this book took a while, but I finally did it and I devoured it in two hours. The Secret Horses of Briar Hill has the same magical and imaginative tones as Shepherd's other books, and I was enthralled by this bittersweet tale.

One thing Megan Shepherd does really well in her books is establish the historical setting and build the world around it. I always fall in love with her descriptions and this was no exception. What I enjoyed most about this was that the information came in bits and pieces, as we're viewing this through the eyes of the child. I didn't know from the synopsis that this was set during the second world war, or that our main character Emmaline is in a house in the countryside, with other children who have–as she calls it–"still waters," also known as tuberculosis. The details were so well put and that was a strong point for the book.

I loved the characters. Emmaline, the other children in the house, Anna, the nuns, Thomas–from our protagonist's point of view, I liked that she gives them little descriptors and quirks that make it so easy to picture them. However, I definitely did not expect this book to touch on heavier topics, such as the war and loss. Most of the characters featured are sick children, yes, but wow–this book had a lot of depth to it, which I appreciated, and instead of glossing over the details, it's depicted in a way that allows a younger reader to understand what's going on without being ploughed down by a dark atmosphere.

What I did feel was lacking a little bit, however, was the part about the horses. Gorgeous descriptions, yes. But there was sort of no explanation for anything, which I guess makes sense since it's coming from Emmaline's point of view and we have no idea whether the horses are real or not–even with the ending–but the plot that involved the horses seemed sort of sidelined. I enjoyed the other bits of the story more, but I was just very confused when it came to this magical horse business as Foxfire appears. I feel like it might have been a way to explore the real-life issues surrounding Emmaline, as well as give some sort of insight into her backstory, but otherwise I felt like it wasn't adding too much to the story. The illustrations were beautiful though, and I really want to see what the finished book is like so I can take in more of them, as so many of mine were missing!

The Secret Horses of Briar Hill–what can I say? An emotional ride, this book was both lovely and heartbreaking to read, and I highly recommend this one to readers of all ages. Megan Shepherd knows her craft very well, with vivid descriptions that pull you in, a small mystery that keeps you in suspense, and, of course, horses.

▪ ▪ ▪ Thank you so much to Cassie at Random House Children's Books for sending me a copy for review! ▪ ▪ ▪

If you like this, try...

  • The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett ● Goodreads
  • Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian ● Goodreads

1 comment:

  1. I admittedly never finished The Madman's Daughter books (just the last one to go--one day!), but I love the sound of this one! Shame you don't get more explanation for the horses, though. I love a good MG that deals with heavier topics in a delicate way for kids to handle, yet understand. Great review! :)

    Rachel @ Paper Cuts


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