________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 14 . . . . March 7, 2008


Dun Lady’s Jess.

Doranna Durgin.
Calgary, AB: Star Ink Books/Red Deer Press, 2007.
295 pp., pbk., $22.95.
ISBN 978-0-88995-398-7.

Grades 8 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Ronald Hore.

***½ /4


“Good job, braveheart.” Carey wooed her, his voice harsh in a dry throat. In seconds they met one of their pursuers, and Lady, following the pattern of endless drills, put her nose to the inside of the path and shouldered aside the other horse. Then another – bay flesh that dropped aside with an equine scream of fear – and the path was clear, clear until the narrow foothold widened, to where another man stood his ground on a flaming chestnut horse. He dropped his reins, one arm cocked behind, the other clutching a strained, curving stick.

There was a sudden odd thump just behind her ears and Carey’s body shifted wildly, sliding from the saddle, skewing Lady’s balance. Her head yanked far to her left with a brutal jerk on the rein, and her body followed. Fear drove her flailing legs but there was no longer any ground beneath them, and they hurtled toward the death waiting in the hard rocky river bed.

And then the world stopped around them.

Arrested in mid-air, they were snatched by another force altogether, one that held Lady in a smothering grip and would not yield to her mental thrashing. She no longer felt Carey’s failing grip on her black mane, nor his legs slipping off her sweat-stained sides. Instead, her mind twisted; her body knotted up, disappeared, reformed, and at last abandoned her along with Carey and her senses.

A fantasy novel that has been updated and re-issued, this is the story of a horse, Dun Lady’s Jess, and her courier rider, Carey, on an important mission for a wizard, Arlen. The mission might decide the fate of two worlds, one where magic is real and normal in everyday life, and our own world where true magic is unknown. The courier is carrying important information regarding the existence of other dimensions or worlds and the spell that could open a doorway between these worlds. They do not want this information to fall into the hands of the sorceress, Calandre, who is suspected of having dangerous plans to control their world, or any other she might be able to reach.

     Ambushed on his mission, outnumbered and in a life or death situation, the rider Carey triggers a spell he is carrying that hurtles the messenger and his mount into present day Ohio. Jess, the horse, recovers consciousness to discover she is alone and transformed into a young woman. She faces several problems: how to act like a human, how to find the courier Carey, and how to avoid someone who is following them. There is also the difficulty of returning home.

     Jess is taken in by a group of friends, one of whom owns a stable. At first, they have problems finding out who or what she is, then they have problems believing her. The story deals with Jess’s struggling to discover what it is to be human, and, after they rescue Carey, her feelings for her former rider. If these problems were not enough, Jess has to face the possibility that, if they find a way to return home to aid in the struggle against Calandre, she might be changed back into a horse again. Her feelings about that probability are very confused.

     The story involves wizardry and a bit of romance, with adventure, both in our world and the magic realm of Camolen. The tale is well-written, original, and the transformation of horse to human is very will done. You can believe that the author has experience with horses. The book consists of 295 pages plus a one page forward by another fantasy writer and a two page introduction by the author.

     Dun Lady’s Jess will appeal to readers of heroic fantasy tales, lovers of horses, and with the inclusion of the modern setting in our own world, allows for a broader audience who may not always reach for the fantasy genre. Then there is also the romance angle, just to add a little bit of spice.

Highly Recommended.

Ronald Hore, involved with writer’s groups and workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.

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

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