Thursday, October 21, 2021

The Night Ride

Coats, J. Anderon. The Night Ride
October 12th 2021 by Atheneum Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Sonnia lives in a vaguely medeival kingdom, in a village where her family is well off enough to own a horse and send her and her sister Greta to school for half days and to own a pony, but struggling enough that Sonnia has to earn coppers giving pony rides to children. Her brother has gotten a job working for the king, so doesn't have to worry about going to job fairs and obtaining menial labor, but it doesn't seem to pay enough to send money home. Since Sonnia desperately once to buy one of the horses, Richochet, that she helps to take care of at the local stable, she once to find a way to earn a good living. When her coworker, Paolo, is chosen to ride Richochet at the royal track as out outrider to calm down an expensive race horse, she tags along. Once at the track, she meets the only female jockey, Deidre, who babysat her when she was young! Deidre pulls some strings, and soon Sonnia is set to live at work next to her favorite horse. Part of the job involves exercising the horses, and she and the other children ride them along paths in the woods, which are generally to be avoided because of bandits. Sonnia is a good rider, and it's not long before she is approached to be part of the Night Ride, a dangerous undertaking the pits the children against each other in nighttime races. Since the king loves horses and doesn't want to see them mistreated, the punishment for "horse harm" is branding and exile, so Sonnia doesn't participate at first. When she gets her first pay from Deidre, she realizes that her room and board takes a large part of this, and doesn't leave enough money to send home so that her sister can go to school, so her parents want her to quit. Eventually, she starts racing, and does very well, earning a lot of money that she hopes to use to buy Richochet. When a horse is hurt and saved from being destroyed only because Paolo quits and takes the horse away, Sonnia knows that she has to speak up against this activity, even though the people who run it our surprisingly powerful, and she could be branded and exiled herself. 
Strengths: Sonnia is a very realistic character who wants what is best for her family, but also has desires of her own. When presented with a moral dilemma, she tries to stay true to her principals, and even when she gives in to the lure of the money, still doesn't feel good about her choice.This sets her apart from the other children, who feel that they don't have to support the system because it hasn't been fair to them. There are some good twists with the person who is running the race, as well as with the background of the other young riders. The blurb says this is like Black Beauty meets Tamora Pierce, and I can sort of see that, but it's not quite right AND most young readers won't be familiar with either of those titles! 
Weaknesses: I wish we had seen more of Sonnia's family life before she went to the track. I think it would have helped me understand what message was trying to be conveyed a bit more. While her relationship with her younger sister was well established, her parents were rather distant. There are some themes of equality and girl power, but I was never quite sure exactly what point was being made, especially after some twists with Deidre. Young readers won't particularly care, but I felt like I was missing something. 
What I really think: This had some similarities with Jessica Day George's Rose Legacy series, which is very popular in my library. The combination of horse care and riding, fighting the system, and trying to survive in a world where everything is stacked against our heroine makes this a solid choice for readers who like their adventure heavy on equine elements. The cover, with a horse front and center, will make this one that horse enthusiasts will be quick to pick up. 

 Ms. Yingling

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