Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over 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.
I became curious about Blood Red Horse by K.M. Grant back when Angie did a Retro Friday review of it. It seemed like a very interesting, under-the-radar historical fiction novel. I was delighted when I found a bargain copy of it in one of the used bookstores in Manila. I thought the cover looked great and I liked the gold accents in the design. That copy has been patiently waiting in my TBR pile for years. Since I’ve been trying to be better about reading books that I have physical copies of, I picked it up when I was in the mood for historical fiction.
Here’s the summary from Goodreads:
You need three things to become a brave and noble knight:
A fair maiden.
A just cause.
Will has a horse – a small chestnut stallion with a white blaze in his brow. Ellie is a fair maiden, but she’s supposed to marry Will’s older brother, Gavin. And as for the cause, King Richard is calling for a Crusade. The Knights of England must go to the Holy Land to fight.
Will and Gavin will go. Blood will be shed. Lives will be taken. But through it all, two things will be constant – Ellie, and a blood-red horse called Hosanna…
Blood Red Horse is set in the time period when Richard the Lionheart serves as the king of England and he leads his men on a crusade against the Muslim leader Saladin. To be perfectly honest, I know next to nothing about this part of history because it wasn’t included in the curriculum in schools back home in the Philippines. It doesn’t really matter since I was able to enjoy reading Blood Red Horse even though I’m not familiar with the historical setting of the book. I liked how the book starts with Ellie, Will and Gavin as young children and how we see them grow and develop throughout the course of the book. More so in the boys’ case as they march off to join the crusade with their father. The boys were thoroughly excited to be knights of the crusade, not knowing that war is such a bleak and miserable business. Ellie was left at home but she was destined to have adventures of her own.
Even at a young age, Will has the skills that make him a fine horseman. When he is finally permitted to choose a Great Horse, he sees something special in Hosanna, and immediately knows that he’s meant to have that particular horse even if Hosanna wasn’t exactly meant to be a warhorse. With the title of the book being Blood Red Horse, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that majority of the story focuses on Hosanna and how the horse influences everyone who gets to know him. However, I thought it was a bit strange how fixated everyone was on Hosanna. I understood Will’s fascination because Hosanna becomes his reliable and faithful companion for years, but everyone else that comes in contact with Hosanna? I just thought it was a bit much for a non-magical horse. (If Hosanna had magic, I think it would have made more sense why he inspires such strong emotions in people.)
I’m usually not a fan of stories about war and true enough, I didn’t really enjoy the passages that centered around the crusade because I found it such a sad experience for the boys and everyone involved. As expected, there’s some violence in there but in an understated way. What I did like was how readers get to see two sides of the war, instead of being biased towards one side. They may disagree about their faith/religion but both leaders of the two groups, Richard and Saladin, see the other person as a brave and worthy opponent. As a result, there’s no clear villain in the story. What we have instead is two groups of people fighting for what they believe in. As I mentioned earlier, I also liked the character development of Ellie, Will and Gavin and I’m really curious what the next books will have in store for them. While I didn’t fall in love with Blood Red Horse, I did think it deserves more attention than it’s currently gotten. If you’re a fan of the historical period of Richard the Lionheart’s reign or of stories about horses, then I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this book.