Mira, Aug 2004
Reviewed by Joy Calderwood
Hooray! Joan Wolf has returned to historicals! WHITE HORSES combines one of her most familiar subjects, horses, with a new setting for Wolf, a nineteenth century equestrian circus.
Colonel Leo Standish, Earl of Branford, was pitchforked into this job. He certainly wouldn’t have chosen it. Gold for Wellington’s army is to be smuggled south, through Napoleon’s France, to where it can be handed over to Wellington’s troops in Spain. The smuggler, new and untried, is the daughter of a French Royalist who frequently did such jobs for the British before his death. Leo is to go along to guard the gold, both from the French and from any ideas Gabrielle may have of taking the gold for herself.
Gabrielle Robichon has inherited the responsibility for the Cirque Equestre because she is older than her two brothers. The circus provides her family with their livelihood, but Gabrielle has higher hopes for her brothers than their father did. For this she needs the money she will be paid for transporting the hidden gold. The catch is, Leo looks so out of place in the circus that he will probably attract the attention of the French. To give the obviously English Leo a reason for joining the circus, the family has agreed to pretend he has married Gabrielle.
The socially squeamish Earl of Branford gradually learns there is much to admire in the circus folk he lives with, especially in Gabrielle and her family. Gabrielle must learn to accept that there are things for which she needs Leo’s help, and tolerate the intimacies necessary for Leo’s disguise. Together their question becomes, what relationship is possible between an earl and the owner of a circus?
Wolf’s main characters in WHITE HORSES are winningly human as always. In addition to the main plot involving the gold smuggling, there are also dramas involving several of the circus performers. Lovers of the equestrian arts will thrill to Wolf’s feel for the beautifully skilled Lippizaners and other classically trained horses, and the exquisite control of the riders who perform with them. As always, Wolf gives substance to her historical novels by her understanding of their times; in this case the political situation in France before Napoleon’s defeat.
I never pass up a new Joan Wolf. I was not as pleased as usual with her two most recent books, because they were set in contemporary USA. I felt they lacked the exotic color she gives to her historicals. In WHITE HORSES, Wolf goes back again in time, with the unusual circus backdrop to enliven the straightforward plotlines. My enthusiasm is revived. WHITE HORSES does not seem to be to be up to the top standard of her DECEPTION (1996), a high-water mark Regency, but it is certainly an engrossing read. Now I take this opportunity to beg Ms. Wolf: Please return to your twelfth century hero Hugh Corbaille, and round off Hugh’s mystery trilogy with a worthy follow-up to NO DARK PLACE and THE POISONED SERPENT.
August 2004 Review
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