The heroine of this story is 13-year-old Kallisto, who lives a privileged life in the city of Ershi, in what is now Uzbekistan. The time is about 100BC and the prosperous area is under threat by the Chinese who have designs on the famous horses bred by the local tribes. Kallisto’s mother is a horse breeder and her father a Greek merchant; the girl has been taught to ride and fight on horses and has a degree of independence unusual for girls of her social position. When the Chinese arrive at the gates of the city and Kallisto’s beloved horse ‘Swan’ is given to the invaders, she decides to go to the rescue.
This is an unusual story, but based on historical fact about the region and the horses. It is told in the first person and we get a real feel for Kallisto’s feelings and her thinking. There is fear, outrage, tenacity and bravery on show as she tries to save her horses. She is totally focused on her intentions and this means that she sometimes lets it outweigh other concerns, such as when her mother is injured by a tiger. We really feel that she is impatient, even though she has a real love for her parent. The story also makes think about the position of women in ancient societies and how difficult it was to have any say in your life. I enjoyed this book more that I thought I might and will look forward to reading the two other linked stories which are intended. This will be very popular with those who love horses and those fascinated by a history different from our own.