The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
I really wasn’t expecting to like this, but, in spite of myself, I did. My girlfriend’s gran, who knows the author and is even mentioned in passing, leant it to me a couple of summers ago, and it’s sat on my bookshelf ever since. Finally caving in (I needed something a bit lighter after HHhH!), once I got over my initial lack of enthusiasm, it turned out to be quite enjoyable.
The central plot of the book revolves around an archaeological dig in search of the semi-legendary Ninth Legion, part of the Roman army that disappears from the historical record after reports of them marching into the north of Britain). However, rather than being sited somewhere up in the Scottish Highlands, the dig (and the book itself) takes places just outside the town of Eyemouth just north of the border. Mostly this is irrelevant for the story, apart from being a further fuel for the cynicism cast by respected academia on the slightly loopy old man funding the dig, but it does present a problem. The first few chapters of the book felt like the author (who isn’t a local) was shouting “Look at all this local cultural and geographical research I’ve done. Appreciate it!” Once the plot starts to pick up however, this becomes less of a problem, and there are a number of sequences later in the book that are quite good explanations of the local history. I was also a bit disappointed that there was no true resolution to the mystery of the Legion, but I suppose I can’t necessarily complain about that.
The bare bones of the plot are fairly generic. Girl falls in love with boy who is mysterious while trying to ignore her ex, who is inconveniently around. Mysterious old man with family issues. Vaguely supernatural young child with a heart of gold and family issues. The old woman full of wonderful local knowledge but with a secret and a heart condition. In spite of this, somehow the combination turns out to be surprisingly compelling. You do begin to feel interested in the characters, even though you’ve read them in tens of different combinations already.
Does the interest come from the fact that it’s based around the timeless mystery of the Lost Legion? Or from the fact it’s set in a place I know fairly well? Maybe, but that doesn’t make it any less of a good, or well written story.