Monday, 15 August 2011

Horses for King Arthur

Horses for King Arthur by L.S. Lawrence (Omnibus for Scholastic Australia)
PB RRP $17.99 
ISBN 978186291918
Reviewed by Dawn Meredith

The title of this book made it irresistible, as I have been a huge fan of Arthurian legend since childhood. There are many erroneous and fanciful versions of the story, some of which are annoying, to say the least, in their inaccuracies. TV’s Merlin is a glaring example, drawing on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth century storylines when most scholars acknowledge the ‘real’ King Arthur would have probably lived in the sixth century AD. I am happy to report that Horses for King Arthur did not disappoint. Set in Britain in the year 475, Lawrence has taken the time to research properly and respect this time-honoured story.

Alexa is a tomboy brought up in the Roman fashion in a noble family. With that position comes responsibility, but Alexa is not one for conventional ways. She loves riding her horse, Feather and is closely watched by old soldier and family servant Syragus. A magnet for trouble, Alexa defies her father’s restrictions upon her behavior. She dreams of breeding beautiful horses, to fight invaders on horseback, but all that is left in Britain are the hardy ponies. No more warmblood stallions to improve their stock.

One evening two strangers come to dinner. Alexa is introduced to an acquaintance of her father, Ambrosius Aurelianus and his son Artorius Aurelianus, a carrot haired boy who shares her passion for horses and plants the seed of an idea in her head. An army on horseback, carrying lances, wouldn’t that be formidable?

But Alexa has no clue that a transaction has taken place at dinner. Her parents have just promised her to Ambrosius Aurelianus, Artorius’ father. The story explodes into action early the next day when Saxon invaders attack and with the grown men rushing out to meet them, the boys and women are left to defend the manor house. Artorius shows his gift for battle strategy and Alexa her prowess. But it is not enough to save her father from being killed. Nor can it prevent the wedding going ahead. Without her father to manage the estate, the workers are already rebelling and fighting amongst themselves. Alexa is trapped by circumstance.

Desperate to delay her marriage, Alexa convinces her mother to allow her to visit her aunt Prima in the large town of Weymouth. Here Alexa finds her aunt’s house in a dilapidated state and goes about restoring the household to its former glory.

A ship arrives at the docks and horses are unloaded. A beautiful stallion catches Alexa’s eye and she is smitten. Where could more be purchased? In her possession she has her mother’s priceless jewels – enough to purchase fine quality stock to breed from and realize her cherished dream. But many obstacles stand in her path.

Alexa is a strong willed girl of solid ethics and blessed with a sensibility to see things through whilst keeping an eye on her goals. Amusingly, the future King Arthur, Artorius, is her young sidekick. Alexa finds herself caught up in murderous clashes and an ocean voyage to a strange land, Brittany, where she is held hostage during a time of war. Her only hope is to impress King Euric with her as yet untried methods for training horsemen to carry and lances in battle. If her faithful servant and mentor, Syragus succeeds, she will be allowed to return home with a herd of her own. Provided no one finds out about the stash of gold in her sewing box and tries to force her into using it as a dowry.

I enjoyed this book immensely. Lawrence plunged me straight into his world and I found myself swept up with Alexa, sharing her indignation at being a pawn in the marriage/dowry political machinations and urging her on to finally return home triumphant. And with the handsome sea captain Grecca at her side, of course!

Lawrence is also author of Eagle of the East and Escape by Sea. Scholastic has provided Teacher’s notes for Horses for King Arthur.  

Dawn Meredith writes from the Blue Mountains and was awarded a May Gibbs Fellowship in 2011. You can follow her exploits at  

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