After listening to The Magician’s Nephew on audiobook, I continued my adventures through Narnia with The Horse and His Boy. It’s the third book, chronologically, but I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe relatively recently, so I jumped on ahead.
The Horse and His Boy is set during The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe–or during the reign of High King Peter, in in-universe timeline. This book centers on new characters, with the characters from the previous book only in supporting roles. This is the story of Shasta and talking horse Bree, who flee the oppressive empire of Calormen, trying to reach the free kingdom of Narnia. They join forces with Aravis, a Calormene aristocrat fleeing an arranged marriage, and her talking horse, Hwin. Their mission takes on new urgency when they overhear Calormene plans to conquer Narnia and neighboring Archenland.
This one started a little slow for me, though I’m not sure why. It may have just been me, but it took me a while to get involved with the characters. I found it picked up right around the same time the Narnians first arrived in the story. I don’t know if that was because of them, or because the threats from Calormen became more pronounced then, or if I’d just been listening long enough to get engaged. After that, the book has more momentum as it becomes a desperate race to warn Archenland and Narnia before invading forces arrive.
As in The Magician’s Nephew, I found the supporting characters highly engaging. The talking horses were particularly good, as Narnian exiles both eager and anxious about going home again. Bree is decidedly arrogant, while Hwin is sweet and altogether too self-effacing. I also liked the glimpses of Lucy, Edmund and Susan as adults…although it adds hugely to the tragedy of the previous book, when they’re pulled out of Narnia and sent home to be children again!! They had amazing lives in Narnia–how do you go home after that? But that’s classic children’s fantasy for you…
I liked Shasta and Aravis well enough too, if not extraordinarily. Perhaps a little context on that comment, though… When I reread The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was because I had just read The Magicians by Lev Grossman, which made me desperately want to run back to Narnia. So now any time I feel at all disengaged from characters in Narnia, all I have to do is remind myself–I could be reading about Quentin and his friends from The Magicians–and then I’m very happy to be with Lewis’ characters instead! So take “disengaged” as a relative term…
Although I enjoyed the Narnians so much, it was also fun to see a different country in this world. Calormen has Middle Eastern elements, and was very richly described. Archenland was less developed, but I really liked the bits in the Epilogue about Archenland’s history. Seeing multiple countries, with their own governments and cultures, gave a much more grounded feel to the magical country.
All in all, this isn’t my favorite installment of Narnia (so far Magician’s Nephew is still holding title) but it was a good ride!
Author’s Site: https://www.cslewis.com/us
Buy it here: The Horse and His Boy