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Susan Mihalic’s debut novel is aptly named. Dark Horses deals with some difficult, heavy, dark subject matter, but it’s a story that deserves to be told. It’s a story that felt like a punch to the gut. Its brutal honesty was a painful reminder that you never know what goes on behind closed doors. I was immediately pulled into Roan Montgomery’s life and invested in her story. Dark Horses is not the type of book that you will just sit down to read a couple of chapters to pass some time. This book is a riveting reading experience that, once you begin, it demands to be read.
The Montgomery horse farm is a stately property, with its lush green pastures, rolling hills, and majestic horses. They are a prominent family whose reputation in the equestrian community is steeped in Olympic achievements and medals, but beyond the pristine façade, lives a family who’s dysfunctional to its core. Set amid the beautiful backdrop of the Virginian countryside is a family’s ugly reality.
Roan didn’t have the luxury of living a “normal” teenage life. Her father’s family were considered legends in the equestrian world and Roan was destined to follow in their footsteps. The training and long hours spent with her horses were a bright spot in her life. She adored her horses (and I loved reading about them). She shared her father’s passion for riding and wanted nothing more than to be the best, too.
Roan didn’t have many friends, she didn’t have a social life, she wasn’t allowed to date, and whatever time she did have was spent practicing for events. When she became secretly involved with a boy from her school, she was reminded of all the things that she’d been forced to give up in order to stay in her father’s good graces. Her father controlled every aspect of her life. She was expected to be a respectful daughter, an excellent student, a future Olympian, and to be at his beck and call. Monty Montgomery was manipulative, controlling, and used to getting what he desired and, unfortunately, that included his own flesh and blood.
My heart broke for Roan. I wanted her to have a better life, one without so much shame and guilt. I wanted her to let her voice be heard, to shed her secrets, to be free. I was on edge throughout the book’s entirety. With every step that she took, I held my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
There are some books that make you feel, and then there are some books that put your emotions through the wringer. Dark Horses was definitely the latter. The author didn’t tiptoe gently through the subject matter, she exposed all of the uncomfortable, difficult, and devastating elements, and delivered a story that hits hard.
Susan Mihalic has written a gripping, relevant, all-consuming novel that I will not soon forget. I am looking forward to reading more by this talented new author.