________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 31 . . . . April 13, 2012


Dark Days at Saddle Creek. (A Saddle Creek Book).

Shelley Peterson.
Markham, ON: Dancing Cat Books, 2012.
273 pp., trade pbk., $12.95.
ISBN 978-1-77086-089-6.

Grades 5-8 / Ages 10-13.

Review by Kim Aippersbach.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



Silently, two large Alsatians came racing around a corner. Their noiseless arrival put Bird on edge. She knew that a dog intent on catching something didn’t bark. A bark is a warning. No bark means business.

“The guard dogs!” gasped Sally. “I forgot!”

“What else did you forget?” Bird groaned. She was beginning to feel like a fool, She held out both hands and messaged the dogs.

Stop. We are not here to harm you or the horses or the property.

The Alsatians halted their approach. One dog began to whine. The dog that wasn’t whining demanded, State your intentions.

Bird identified him as the alpha dog. She answered with respect. We are here to help the horse named Tall Sox. Some humans believe him to be a bad horse. They will remove him and destroy him.

Tall Sox. Now the whining dog spoke. We call him Sox.

The lead dog slowly wagged his tail. He’s a good horse. Come with us. We know the way.

Bird followed them.

“How did you do that?!” Sally stood still. She looked bewildered and afraid.

Dark Days at Saddle Creek is Shelley Peterson’s third novel about Bird, a girl who can speak telepathically with animals. Animal and human characters from Sundancer and Mystery at Saddle Creek return in Dark Days at Saddle Creek, as well as characters from Peterson’s previous trilogy about Abbey Malone and the horse Dancer, but Dark Days at Saddle Creek is complete in itself and can be read without the others. Bird, short for Alberta, rides the horse Sundancer and competes in jumping and derby events. She stays with her aunt, Hannah, at Saddle Creek farm and helps with the horses and the younger riders. When a riding acquaintance, Sally, comes to her in the middle of the night saying her horse is about to be taken away, Bird decides to rescue Tall Sox by bringing him back to Saddle Creek. Thus begins a complicated plot involving trainer Dexter Pill and an insurance fraud scam. Dexter deliberately injures horses and convinces their owners to sell them or put them down. With the help of her animal friends, Bird is able to hide Tall Sox from Dexter until the undercover agent Frank Skelton can arrest Dexter and his accomplices. Bird discovers that Frank can also speak telepathically, and she wonders if he is her father. He denies his paternity at first, but, in the end, she finds out he is her father. He will not jeopardize his undercover work in order to be a proper father, and Bird has to reconcile herself to his absence.

     There are more complicated family dynamics at play that will be familiar to readers of the previous novels: Bird has an uncomfortable relationship with her mother, and she has a grandfather whom she helped get arrested and who wants revenge. Because there is also the death of an older character who has played a role in all six of Peterson’s books, this book has a fairly serious tone.

     Peterson handles the multiple plot threads well, tying everything together satisfactorily. Bird is a convincing character, though perhaps a bit too mature and wise for someone with the number of emotional issues she has to deal with. The novel doesn’t end with all her problems magically solved, and there is a sense of character growth. The world of Saddle Creek farm is well developed, and readers of the previous novels will enjoy another story in a familiar setting. There is enough detail about horses, riding, and competition to keep horse lovers happy.

     Peterson’s prose is straightforward and flows smoothly. Sometimes the dialogue is a bit stilted, particularly the conversations with animals. Bird’s telepathic ability is a plot device and is not explored the way it would be in a fantasy novel. There is a suggestion that her connection to animals comes from Bird’s aboriginal heritage, but this idea is not developed, except by implication in the quotations from First Nations writers that open every chapter.

     Dark Days at Saddle Creek will appeal to teens who love horses, and the novel will be a welcome addition for those who have read the other Saddle Creek books.


Kim Aippersbach is a freelance editor and writer with three children in Vancouver, BC.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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