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‘Huge, they were, and golden, with black slits for pupils’ – the eyes of a silver mare, drawing our heroine Katriona deeper and deeper into their depths, as ‘old tales of ghosts and magic stirred inside her’. For the reader of epic adventure, a sense of other ancient stories echoing through the one we are reading now is a prerequisite to belief and pleasure. Kaaberbøl meets that need here in rich measure.
Kat is quick tempered and restless, too much like her passionate and attractive mother, the maestra of a travellers’ hostelry in the remote region of Three Valleys, where the matriarchal society expects women to remain in their own districts to govern and provide stability. There isn’t enough emotional room at The Crowfoot Inn for mother and daughter, so Kat embarks upon a journey first prompted by that encounter with the silver mare. The horse, she has learned, is one of the hellhorses owned by The Riders, the bredinari, who travel the country trying to stem a widespread decline into lawlessness. Kat longs to become a Rider, and eventually she enrols as an apprentice in the School for Bredinari in the capital, Breda. For the reckless Kat, the task is to discover posa,a fusion of serenity, balance and poise, for without such qualities she will be at the mercy of the enemies a Rider will encounter.
Kaaberbøl’s post apocalyptic world is almost feudal. Hardship, robbery and violence are redeemed by moments of affection, courage and loyalty. Our engagement with that world is secured in part through the excitement of the narrative; and also through a language rooted in other times, evoking the depths of a whole culture. Lene Kaaberbøl is her own excellent translator from the Danish. The web indicates that there is a Katriona trilogy of which this is the first; certainly, by the end of this book there is a sense that even more demanding adventures lie ahead for Kat, should she complete her training and become one of The Riders.