In The Blue Roan Child, his first novel for young readers, Jamieson Findlay reveals a countryside and a people that are both familiar and yet strangely unfamiliar. We come to know Syeira (the blue roan child of the title) as a lonely orphan girl with a mysterious past, the horse stables where she lives and works, and the small kingdoms held in the grip of war and oppression. Yet Findlay also reveals a magical undercurrent of charms that bewitch both horse and human, intoxicating plants that can reveal the past, and the rumoured flying horses with twenty-foot wings.
This novel is the story of Syeira's quest and the magical bond that develops between her and an untamed mare named Arwin who was captured in the wild country of Arva. Arwin's twin colts are taken from her by the cruel ruler, Lord Ran, who dreams only nightmares, and Syeira decides to help Arwin rescue them. Her quest takes her through unfriendly farmers' fields, menacing towns, and a treacherous forest, to Ran's fortress city. There, she and Arwin struggle to save the imprisoned colts and to escape to the freedom of uncharted Arva.
The characters that Syeira and Arwin meet along the way are delightfully perverse, and totally believable¨from Sir Gemynd, who cannot form new memories, to Grulla, a broken female soldier who cares for horses gone mad from war. These characters are often not what they seem, and Syeira finds help in the most unexpected places.
The horses too are keenly imagined, for this is a horse story like no other. Findlay's horses are wise, intuitive, and true to the animal's nature, yet Arwin can breathe a scent picture into Syeira's mind and she seems to understand Syeira when she speaks. This added mystical link transforms the girl-and-horse story into a sensitive and innovative exploration of the relationship between child and animal.
Findlay's plot is never predictable, and it increases in intensity and pace as the story progresses. From the sun-baked melon breath of horses to the stench of rotten fish in canal water, Findlay's writing is a sensory delight, where smells in particular are examined in acute detail. After consuming a "word potion", one character talks of being "buffeted by the hot windblown spicery of words." To enter Findlay's world is to swallow a rich word potion that will arouse the senses and satisfy the soul. Readers aged 10 and up are sure to enjoy this well-spun tale.
Karen Krossing is a children's book writer who lives in Toronto.