Reading Level: Middle Grade
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Length: 240 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Books for Young Readers
Release Date: October 11, 2016
Stand Alone or Series: Stand Alone
Source: Gift for Xmas
Rating: 4/5 stars
“There are winged horses that live in the mirrors of Briar Hill hospital—the mirrors that reflect the elegant rooms once home to a princess, now filled with sick children. Only Emmaline can see the creatures. It is her secret.
One morning, Emmaline climbs over the wall of the hospital’s abandoned gardens and discovers something incredible: a white horse with a broken wing has left the mirror-world and entered her own.
The horse, named Foxfire, is hiding from a dark and sinister force—a Black Horse who hunts by colorless moonlight. If Emmaline is to keep him from finding her new friend, she must surround Foxfire with treasures of brilliant shades. But where can Emmaline find color in a world of gray?”
I got this book for Christmas. I have really enjoyed a lot of Megan Shepherd’s YA series so I was curious to read her debut middle grade novel. This was a beautifully written book that is full of magical realism and has a bittersweet story.
Emmaline has been moved to a hospital for children with tuberculosis during World War II. As she watches her best friend fade away taken by the “stillwaters” of tuberculosis she notices there are winged horses that live in the mirrors throughout the hospital.
When one of the horses shows up the garden wounded, Emmaline is given a quest to drive an evil Black Horse away until the wounded horse can heal and flee.
The book is overshadowed by World War II; the kids are on their own and many have relatives and parents that have died in the war. Food is short and illness is prevalent throughout; in general things are drab and grey.
The book is beautifully written with wonderful descriptions. There are beautiful black and white illustrations interspersed in the story. It’s a somewhat dark story with bursts of brightness and light throughout. The ending is somewhat ambiguous leaving the reader to make up their own mind about what happens with Emmaline (Shepherd addresses this issue in the Afterword).
I have mixed feelings about the book. I liked how it addressed some of the issues of World War II and I loved the magical horses in the mirrors. I thought overall it was a bit depressing and too much of a tear-jerker (I am not a huge fan of this type of bittersweet story). There is just too much sadness in the idea of these kids having to leave their families and of what everyone goes through as war time progresses.
Overall this was a well done story. It’s beautifully written and illustrated. It was a bit too sad and melancholy for me, but I did think it was a good magical look at some of the things that happened during WWII. I am giving it to my 9 year old son to read and will try to update this review with his thoughts once he reads it.