________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 28 . . . . March 23, 2012


The Horse Road.

Troon Harrison.
New York, NY: Bloomsbury Children’s Books (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2012.
373 pp., hardcover, $19.50.
ISBN 978-1-59990-846-5.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Myra Junyk.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“What is wrong, Kallisto?” my mother asked in her husky voice, halting her horses. “The racers returned to camp without you, and Batu was missing also. I have ridden out to find you.”

As my mother spoke, Gryphon stepped forward to touch his nostrils against the dark muzzle of Grasshopper, my mother’s mare, in greeting. She let out a squeal but my mother touched her on the withers with one hand, and she stilled instantly.

“The army is coming for our horses!” I cried. “The army from the Middle Kingdom, with their banners of red silk! They are marching down the trading route from the mountains, high up towards Osh!”

Kallisto’s tranquil world of horses is about to be shattered! Although she is betrothed to Arash, the son of the King’s falconer, Kallisto still lives a carefree life in the Ferghana valley of central Asia taking care of her family’s precious Persian horses. It is the year 104 B.C., and the Chinese army is preparing to invade her city of Ershi in order to take these remarkable horses. The Chinese Emperor needs stronger and faster horses to defend the Middle Kingdom from invading tribes north of the Great Wall. Ershi’s stubborn king refuses to trade with the Chinese.

      Kallisto and her friend, Batu, the son of a nomadic tribesman, discover the Chinese army during a horserace. While Kallisto is trying to warn her mother about the invasion, a snow leopard viciously attacks them and gravely wounds her mother. After returning home, Kallisto is shocked to find a city under siege. She is trapped in the city surrounded by the Chinese army. Kallisto becomes the head of the household as her mother slowly recovers from her wounds because her father and brothers are away on a trading expedition.

      As the situation in the city deteriorates, Kallisto’s betrothed, Arash, comes to her home and claims her beloved white horse, Swan, in order to gain influence with the king. Kallisto is shocked to learn that Swan is to going to be sacrificed to placate the gods and save the city from the Chinese. In order to save Swan, Kallisto persuades the cruel Arash that she will find a precious golden harness that he desperately needs. She undertakes a dangerous journey out of the besieged city disguised as a warrior. On her journey, she battles with the army against the Chinese, survives a kidnapping, and digs her way out of a Scythian tomb. When she gets home, she discovers that the old king is dead and the new king has made peace with the Chinese invaders. However, Swan has been given to the Chinese. Kallisto is determined to get Swan back, despite the odds.

      This novel is the first of a series of three historical horse novels for young readers. Each of the three novels has a female protagonist who is very involved with horses. The Horse Road explores the relationship between Kallisto, a native of central Asia, and the fabled Persian horses which she raises. Her Samaritan mother cares for the herd of horses while her Greek father travels to far off lands to trade. These horses were famous for their intelligence, boldness and stamina. Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus, and Genghis Khan’s horse were both reputed to be Persian horses. Kallisto is a brave heroine who survives many dangerous episodes in this story of the Chinese invasion of her city.

      Troon Harrison has published several historical novels as well as science fiction, fantasy and picture books. Although readers will be interested in the unique historical details presented in The Horse Road, the editing could have been more thorough to reduce the novel’s length. Many interesting areas are explored in this novel including: Persian horses, slavery, women’s rights, Chinese history, the Silk Road, Scythian burial traditions, aqueducts, ancient religions, and earthquakes.


Myra Junyk is a Toronto-based literacy advocate and author.

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

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