The Escape (Horses of the Dawn)
by Kathryn Lasky
Scholastic, $16.99 hardcover, ISBN-10 0545397162, January 2014
The horses are in danger. They were rounded up by the two-legs and forced onto a boat to cross the wide ocean. The journey went badly and the boat was deemed too heavy, so the two-legs forced the horses into the sea and sailed away, leaving the herd to die in the deep. By a miracle, the horses survived and made it to land. All but one — the ghost horse, the leader of the pack. Now it’s up to her daughter, only a filly, to take charge of the terrified herd. Stranded in a new land, surrounded by two-legs, will the horses find a way to live safe and free?
This retelling of Cortes’s conquest of Mexico takes the equine viewpoint, and neither Cortes nor the natives come out in a great light. Estrella and her fellow horses are dumped into the sea to face sharks, make landfall only to run afoul of crocodiles, and then wind up recaptured by their human masters, who are determined to break them again. Magic Pony this ain’t.
Lasky does a convincing job of creating characters who are anthropomorphized enough to let the reader relate to them but who still retain their equine qualities. They worry about finding good grazing, creating a solid herd dynamic, and finding a place where they can live free. While they admit they were often close to their human masters or at least had pleasant relationships with them, the horses want to think for themselves, not endure forced servitude, and never worry that their offspring will be sold to other masters far away.
The herd comes into contact with North American wildlife for better and for worse as well as getting drawn into the strife between the conquistadores and the native peoples. Students who’ve covered European exploration of the Americas in social studies class will easily understand the events the horses observe, although the gorier aspects may upset sensitive readers. Lasky also brings up a bit of paleontology with Estrella’s spirit visions of equus eohippus, the first, tiny ancestors of the modern horse.
While not without its flaws, this new animal-centric series from the author of The Guardians of Ga’Hoole is sure to find a readership with horse fans and may influence a new generation of animals rights advocates.
Recommend to: Upper elementary students, fans of the author, animal fiction readers
To buy or not to buy: Likely to be popular in school and public libraries