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Black Horses for the King    by Anne McCaffrey order for
Black Horses for the King
by Anne McCaffrey
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 1998 (1996)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Black Horses for the King is set in the time of Camelot. Artos, Comes Britannorum, appears in it as an emerging war leader, but it is not his story. It is the tale of Galwyn Gaius Varianus and of the horses that he loves. We first meet Galwyn, apprenticed to his brutal shipmaster uncle, assisting Artos' seasick Companions and emptying their slop buckets over the side.

They are on an expedition in search of Libyan mares and stallions to breed warhorses for the fight against the Saxons. Galwyn's skill with languages very quickly comes in handy. He grows to respect Artos and his ambitions for Britain, and flees from his uncle to join and assist him. Galwyn works with the horses, in particular Artos' new (and wild) stallion Cornix.

Galwyn's story reminded me a little of McCaffrey's Harper Hall tales, in which she views big events from the perspective of minor, but very interesting, players. As in those stories, Galwyn encounters pettiness and jealousy in Iswy, an enemy who makes increasing trouble for him. He also learns his craft and works hard to develop skills in a new invention, horse shoes ... as the canny old horseman Canyd frequently says 'No hoof, no horse.'

Read Black Horses for the King for a new perspective on Britain in the time of Camelot, different from the glamorous Hollywood version. In McCaffrey's era, hard work and innovation pay off, when Artos and his people import black warhorses and develop the techniques of farriery to protect their vulnerable feet with iron horseshoes ... one feels that it might indeed have happened this way.

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