About the Book:
A darkly gripping debut novel about a teenage girl’s fierce struggle to reclaim her life from her abusive father.
Fifteen-year-old equestrian prodigy Roan Montgomery has only ever known two worlds: inside the riding arena, and outside of it. Both, for as long as she can remember, have been ruled by her father, who demands strict obedience in all areas of her life. The warped power dynamic of coach and rider extends far beyond the stables, and Roan’s relationship with her father has long been inappropriate. She has been able to compartmentalize that dark aspect of her life, ruthlessly focusing on her ambitions as a rider heading for the Olympics, just as her father had done. However, her developing relationship with Will Howard, a boy her own age, broadens the scope of her vision.
At the intersection of a commercial page-turner and urgent survivor story, Dark Horses takes the searing themes of abuse and resilience in Gabriel Tallent’s My Absolute Darling and applies the compelling exploration of female strength in Room by Emma Donoghue. In much the same way that V.C. Andrews’s Flowers in the Attic transfixed a generation of readers, Susan Mihalic’s debut is set to a steady beat that will keep you turning the pages.
A stunning powerhouse of a book.
Young Roan Montgomery is a top competitor in the privileged and tight-knit world of equestrian “eventing. “Her father Monty is a brilliant, rigid and controlling man who literally wrote the book on the subject, and who is revered within the sport, including sportscasters, sponsors and other riders. Roan lives with her parents in the lush Virginia horse country and hopes to one day compete in the Olympics. Trigger warning: she has suffered sexual abuse by the father since she was a little girl. And her mother knows.
“You think it’s a secret?”
Not a secret, but the thing we never talked about. I wanted her to make him stop, not ruin everything. Just fix the broken parts.
Roan has taught herself to compartmentalize the severe abuse as a way to cope. Her father holds all the power in the family, and Roan truly loves competing. Her father holds all the cards: financial, physical and emotional. Her mother absents herself as a way to cope. Roan obeys her father because she doesn’t know any other way. When she finally enters high school and tries to begin a normal, healthy dating relationship, the tensions rise bitterly in her dysfunctional family life.
“In many ways, I didn’t understand, either, so why should I expect anyone else to? I’d chosen cooperation and obedience, and I had to live with everything that meant, including keeping the secret. I would not allow my carefully constructed life to fall apart. The only people who needed to know were Daddy and me.”
The author’s intimate knowledge of horses is very compelling and brought me back to my horseback riding youth. I owned a horse until I went away to college and the bonds between horse and rider can be very strong. I understood Roan’s drive and her passion for her horses.
This book tackles an ugly, difficult subject matter in a stunning and brave way. It is very similar to ‘My Absolute Darling’ in its brutal descriptions of incest. With that said, there are many moments of beauty. In addition, Roan’s blossoming relationship with Will is the high point of the story. In some ways this book reads like a Young Adult novel and it was a good balance to the otherwise painful subject matter.
Roan is a strong, beautiful character and despite the trigger warnings, this book is just a stunning, mesmerizing story. The setting and the supporting characters are all fantastically written. Roan does not want to be seen as a victim and when she finally sees a way out of her impossible situation, she is brave enough to act. She is most definitely a fighter.
“I’d found my own path to justice, and the only person I needed to protect was myself.”
‘Dark Horses’ is an intense and brutal story that is without question one of the most unforgettable books I have ever read. If this is Susan Mihalic’s first novel, I cannot wait to see what she writes next. Don’t miss this powerhouse of a book!
(Thanks to the publisher for providing an advance reading copy via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
About the Author:
Susan Mihalic has worked as a book editor, curriculum writer, writing instructor, and freelance writer and editor. She has also taught therapeutic horseback riding. She graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi and now lives in Taos, New Mexico.