Thursday, April 01, 2010

The Highest Stakes by Emery Lee

Title: The Highest Stakes
Author: Emery Lee
ISBN: 9781402236426, Sourcebooks Landmark, 2010
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: C+
Source: Sourcebooks

First Line: The blue roan colt had the finely shaped head and alert look of his sire, with strong, straight legs, a chest deep and wide, a short back with well-sprung ribs, and a highly muscled hind end inherited from his dam.

It's 1742. Robert Devington is a stable hand for the nouveau riche (and horse mad) Sir Garfield Wallace. When Wallace's orphaned niece, Charlotte, comes to live with the family, it's her way with horses that leads Robert to fall in love with her. No matter what Devington does, Sir Garfield wants no part of him as a member of the family, so Devington decides to make a career for himself in the British cavalry.

The course of true love never did run smooth, and it's no different in The Highest Stakes. Unfortunately, it's a tale that has very little new to it where two-legged characters are concerned. Devington is the well-intentioned but bumbling Good Guy. Sir Garfield is the resident Bad Guy. His daughter Beatrice thinks of nothing but her own pleasure and throws a monkey wrench into the plot whenever one is needed. Devington's fellow cavalry officer, Philip Drake, has a difficult time thinking of anyone but himself. Even Charlotte is too nice. Yes, the characters are a bit two-dimensional with Devington being the best of the lot. When he's not the focus of the story, the book suffers.

I won't go into all the times when the characters don't speak-- they hiss, whine, wail, smirk, leer and glare. Instead, I'll focus on when the book comes to life, and-- even with its faults-- it does come to life. When? When horse racing, and the history of Thoroughbred horses, are in the spotlight. I love horse racing and know quite a bit of its history and its bloodstock, but most of my knowledge concerns American racing. I was fascinated whenever Lee told of English racing and English foundation bloodlines. Another favorite section was how cavalry horses were loaded on board ships, their care while at sea, and their offloading and preparations for going on campaign.

It's obvious that Lee loves horses and history, and she does such a good job with both that, even though I have reservations about this particular book, I would be more than happy to read any of her subsequent works. That goes to show just how good the good bits are.

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