“No hoof, no horse.”
“Black Horses for the King” by Anne McCaffrey
My Magic Carpet edition of this young adult book claims that Black Horses for the King is a story of King Arthur “as it has never been told,” but, in my reading of it, it wasn’t much of a story of King Arthur at all, but rather a story of a young man in medieval England and his discovery of a trade that not only gives him a sense of purpose and pride, but helps King Arthur (Lord Artos, in this telling) lead his men into victory against the invading Saxons. Galwyn Varianus is chosen to help Artos in his quest to obtain black Lybian stallions for his men to breed and ride into victory into battle, and he learns the trade of taking care of horses and has a hand in developing the use of horseshoes for these warmounts. In a way, this book remind me of Karen Cushman’s medieval fiction, particularly The Midwife’s Apprentice, of a young person in this historically intriguing period, where the development of the character from child to adult is just as much a part of the story as emerging the reader in the historical detail without too much romanticism.
Sometimes, the historical detail seems to take over too much of the narrative; the bits about the horses and taking care of them would be more interesting if I were a bigger fan of horses. All I really know about horses is that I wanted one when I was a little girl, but my father said no because they were too much work, and this book definitely confirmed this. I would have liked a bit more conflict; for the most part, the book is about young Galwyn’s journey from working under his bitter uncle in shipyards to becoming a proud smithy in the service of the future king, and the only real conflict is a meddlesome man named Iswy with a grudge against Galwyn. In the face of invading Saxons, the conflict with Iswy seems relatively inconsequential and thrown in to no real powerful effect.
Overall, it was an entertaining little book, and a good reference point for the medieval world of horseshoeing. King Arthur in this case is more of a context than a character, but it was nice to see it approached outside of the usual, “Hollywood” mythology (as McCaffrey calls it). A bit repeatability, a bit obviously ~historic~ but I enjoyed it and reading it will be useful in putting my own perspective into some of my more medieval fantasy.
Books read: 9 out of 100