I wonder if I can make a new post for each book in this omnibus and still have them count as separate reviews? We'll see.
Follows the early life and first few years of adulthood of the magnificent ‘silver’ brumby Thowra as he fights for a herd against a mighty rival The Brolga and for his freedom from the men who hunt the wild brumbies of the Snowy Mountains.
I think this kind of book is called a bildungsroman – a coming of age story, except it’s about a horse. It doesn’t tell of Thowra’s entire life, like Black Beauty, but of his rise to maturity and becoming King of the Cascade brumbies. It details how he outwits several rivals and steals a beautiful palomino mare from the stockmen who come to the mountains to hunt brumbies.
Well, there’s Thowra, who is the most incredible horse ever to roam the earth. He’s at once cunning, intelligent, speedy, strong, and somewhat arrogant of his own beauty. His mother Bel Bel, who was creamy herself and taught him all of her bushcraft and independence is a wise mentor and basically a giant sweetheart. There’s Storm, the ordinary-coloured bay half-brother that I have an incredibly soft spot for, and I know he adores Thowra and vice versa despite him never having to face the same ordeals Thowra has to because of his colour. I love how they stay friends and never rivals their whole lives. The Brolga is a silent villain, one who knows Thowra is his greatest threat, while his daughter Boon Boon becomes one of Thowra’s favourite mares. It’s a really great mix of horses of different personalities and there’s one there for everyone to love, even formerly tame Golden who becomes Thowra’s greatest prize.
This is a classic novel, written back in the 1950s when there were certain gender roles fulfilled by men and women and that seem to leech into this novel as well. With this anthropomorphism, of course a stallion is the leader of his herd, and even though Bel Bel knows more about the bush and is infinitely wiser than her stallion, Yarraman, she’s still second fiddle when it comes to leading a herd. Bel Bel is prized above all other mares because of her colour, just like Golden is later on. Thowra’s basically in a polygamous relationship with his mares, and they’re all OK with it, because that’s how things work. These kind of human relationships are superimposed on the horses and of course it’s not how horses really behave, but it’s easy to fall into the romance of it. The writing itself can seem a bit old-fashioned but it just adds to the beauty and poetry of the descriptions of the Australian bush and the way the wild horses live in it. Even though I’ve never been to the Snowy Mountains I really have no problem imagining what it looks like.
The pacing is spot on in this novel – when nothing interesting happens, time skips forward. I remember when I was a child re-reading this novel for the billionth time that the fights between the stallions seemed to go on for a long time, but in reality they’re just about a page long. Nothing is wasted, nothing is expanded if it doesn’t need to be. It’s not sparse, but for example skipping over Thowra’s second winter does absolutely nothing to hinder the plot and just keeps the pace going to the more interesting parts.
This is one of my childhood favourites and I was excited to read it again as an adult. It’s perfect for horse lovers or younger readers but I’m certain adults will find something charming in here as well. I can’t imagine anyone not liking this book.