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The Shadowy Horses, by Susanna Kearsley

Updated on August 16, 2015

Before Reading

"The Shadowy Horses" came highly recommended by a friend whose judgment I trust. That being said, it seemed to me like the title sort of lacked something and I would not have even considered opening it if had not been recommended by that friend.

After Reading

"The Shadowy Horses" is the tale of Verity Grey, an archaeologist who has been called by Adrian, an ex-boyfriend, to participate in a dig in Eyemouth, near the border between Scotland and England. Adrian's boss, Peter Quinnell, thinks that he may have found the lost Roman legion Legio IX Hispana, variously referred to in the novel as "The Ninth Legion" and as "The Hispana."

Quinnell has long thought that the Ninth Legion disappeared somewhere on Great Britain, most likely in Scotland, and through a series of events related to the supernatural aspect of the book, has come to believe that the area around Eyemouth is where the Legion met their end.

The group conducting the dig is a small one, just Quinnell, Quinnell's granddaughter Fabia, Quinnell's student (and now a professor of archaeology himself) David Fortune, Adrian, and eventually Verity herself.

As with "The Winter Sea," the history here is excellent. Kearsley built this story from an existing theory. The last time the position of the Ninth Legion was recorded was when they repaired a fortress at York in 108 AD. By 165 AD, the Hispana had disappeared completely. The relevant theory goes that the Hispana must have dissolved or been killed while they were on Great Britain, since that is where they were definitely last seen. There are competing theories as to the final fate of the legion as well, of course. Kearsley also goes into the history of the region, including Eyemouth's past as a center for smuggling.

Now for the supernatural aspect. A little boy named Robbie claims to have seen a Roman sentry on the property. Quinnell knows a woman who knows Robbie's family and once Quinnell's friend discovers what Robbie has seen, she sends for Quinnell, who buys the house and land where the sentry has been seen and starts the dig. Verity is dubious about psychic events, but as time passes, she becomes increasingly convinced that Robbie does have psychic powers.

For what it's worth, the title of "The Shadowy Horses" is a reference to a Yeats poem either about pucas or about Mannanan mac Lir and is also a reference to horses that Verity hears in the night outside her window, where there are no horses.

"The Shadowy Horses" provides lots of information on the history of the border regions, the town of Eyemouth in particular. It also shows the reader how an archaeological dig progresses and gives the reader some insight into curation practices. I found these parts fascinating. There is also lots of interpersonal drama among the characters, which was wonderful as well. I have to admit, though, that the romance seemed sort of tacked on. Verity's attraction to the main love interest is obvious from the start, but he didn't seem to be very receptive of her. Fortunately what there was in the way of history, archaeology and other character drama made reading this book very worthwhile to me, even if I wasn't terribly impressed by the romance.


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    • Olivia-O profile image

      Olivia-O 3 years ago

      Thank you, both for the comment and for the catch. I have finished that paragraph.

    • Dallas Matier profile image

      Dallas Matier 3 years ago from Australia

      It definitely sounds interesting. I think I'll have to get hold of a copy.

      (One thing, though - the third last paragraph in your review cuts off mid-sentence)