Title: A Whisper of Horses
Author: Zillah Bethell
Series: – –
Genre: MG Dystopia
Available: 11th Aug
A gorgeously lyrical journey of discovery across a reimagined Great Britain.
Serendipity loves horses. No-one in Lahn Dan has ever seen one, apparently they died out before the Gases – but there are statues of them around the city, paintings and drawings too if you know where to look. And there’s the little lost wooden horse Mama gave Serendipity when she was little.
When Mama dies, Seren is taken under the wing of Professor Nimbus, a storyteller. Nimbus is kind and knowledgable, but Seren has started to question the Minister’s rule and life beyond the high, impenetrable Emm Twenty-Five wall. Hidden among Mama’s few possessions was a map which suggests there is life outside of Lahn Dahn, and a place where horses live and roam freely – out beyond the wall and the Minister’s grip. So, with the help of a trader boy called Tab and his little dog Mouse, Serendipity heads into the unknown, searching for the beautiful creatures she’s always dreamed of.
Source: ARC from Piccadilly Press via NetGalley
This is a curious book. It’s good and readable and enjoyable, but it’s also an adventure with a modest goal. So many novels set in a grim future version of our world end up in a big fight to change the unbalanced society and make everything better. There are times when I thought this book would be that too, but no, at it’s heart, Serendipity really does just want to find the horses.
There’s nothing wrong with that, but if you’re expecting lots of action and a revolution, you won’t find it here. Serendipity does have adventures and there are some moments of excitement, but mostly this is a road trip book, going from the dark, restricted streets of Lahn Dahn, past the Emm Twenty-Five wall and out into the wider world. Which may or may not have been destroyed by the Gases, and may or may not contain horses.
I think the early chapters will work best for readers who know London fairly well, and can catch the quirky changes to familiar things. Such as Serendipity’s sleeping pod on the London High, the visit to the Gallery Market, the terror of Two Swords and other such scenes, with less obvious puns. I’ll admit I was surprised that the paintings were clearly still at the market and hadn’t been looted, nor had Bucknam Palace, which didn’t seem to fit in with the way the high society Aus live, but they’re minor things in the whole book.
Mostly this book is about dreams, about not letting the views of others hold you back, and daring to step outside the familiar things you know in order to make things better. Serendipity has a lot to learn across the book, but she’s brave and honourable, and her friendship with Tab and Mouse is fun at times and challenging at others. They’re an interesting pair to follow as they travel through the strange, but not completely different, Grey Britain, in search of a legendary dream.
Overall, I enjoyed this. It’s clever at times, has a sense of humour at others, offers up adventure and danger as well as friendship and dreams. It’s more thoughtful than blockbuster, and I’m not completely convinced by the ending, but on the whole this is a good, imaginative read.
A Whisper of Horses is out August 11th!
Visit Zillah Bethell for more details.