1997. Sourcebooks. Paperback. 420 pages.
Recommendation from: Eva (A Striped Armchair)
In a nutshell:
Archaeologist Verity Grey is asked to interview for a position at a dig near the town of Eyemouth, Scotland. She is charmed by the eccentric, legendary archaeologist who sponsors the dig, Peter Quinnell. He manages to convince her to sign on despite there being no real evidence that the dig will yield the discovery he hopes to find: the final resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion. As the summer progresses, Verity and the rest of the archeology team witness a series of small supernatural incidents and sense that they are being warned about a present danger.
The Shadowy Horses is by and large an atmospheric ghost story. There is a layer of mystery, punctuated by some delightful eerie moments, such as the retelling of the Eyemouth disaster (taken from actual local history). I really loved the ghost element, which struck me as old-fashioned without being cliched. (Speaking of old-fashioned, the descriptions of the technology in the book definitely had me flipping back to the cover page to find out the original publishing date was in the late 1990’s.)
Kearsley’s depiction of archeology field work seemed believable, starting from the fact that Verity landed the interview because an old colleague/flame was already working on the dig. When it comes to ‘prestige’ professions like archaeology, the “who you know” element would seem to be crucial. I see too many characters in fiction snag their enviable jobs in unbelievable ways; it’s refreshing to see acknowledgment of how the real world works. And the descriptions that follow of everyone’s job and the work required seemed realistic even though there was also this fundamental supernatural aspect.
Perhaps the highest praise I can give The Shadowy Horses is this: if all the mystery, and even the ghost element, had been dropped, I would have still loved reading about these characters conducting their dig. Whether they are working, or eating, or taking a walk together, there is a warmth to most of their interactions that makes them pleasant to be around, as a reader.
So although the climactic scene was slightly underwhelming in one sense, it was also really touching and that covered over any incidental disappointment. Suffice to say, I will be sure to pick up more of Kearsley’s books in the future. And I definitely recommend Shadowy Horses as a summer read.
Excerpts from others’ reviews:
The Good, the Bad and the Unread – “While I enjoyed many elements of the book, the middle drags a bit and I feel a little cheated in the end”
Melissa’s Bookshelf – “I found myself completely lost in the pages of this book and thanks to Kearsley’s beautiful, descriptive writing style, I felt like I was right there, witnessing everything happen.”
Musings of a Bookish Kitty – “I liked how simple the love story was, how naturally it came together over the course of the novel”
7 responses to “The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley”
This sounds like something I would enjoy. Sometimes I like books that are more exciting, but often an atmospheric space and characters that I enjoy spending time with are what I really want from a book.
This is my favourite of Kearsley’s novels. I loved all the details about the dig and, though I’m not usually interested in stories with supernatural elements, loved the characters so much that I could even stomach a ghost or two.
Joy – It’s not without some excitement, but definitely the pleasure is with the characters and setting.
Claire – That is definitely a testament to the characterization then!
I’ve not long bought a copy of this so I’m really pleased to hear you enjoyed it. Last year I read and loved The Rose Garden, and since then have been on the look out for more of Kearsley’s work.
This was my first Kearsley book. I’ve heard that many of her other books involve time-travel, which is a plot device I often love.
Ah yes The Rose Garden has time-travel in it.
I loved getting to spend time with all the characters, and I was utterly entranced by the dig…and it certainly wouldn’t have hurt to think of the Sentinel as looking a lot like Channing Tatum!