In many ways, I'm not really the ideal reader for this novel. I'm queer and generally sick of heteronormative love stories. I'm also, as I've said before, kind of a Vulcan. I don't do sentiment and I'm not really sure that humans speak to each other the way movies would have us think. I also have my eyes open for horse-related errors in novels set around equines.
Here's what I did like about the novel: It's quite readable. I got through it in about two days. None of the horse stuff left me clutching my forehead. I don't know anything about hurdlers, so someone in that world might have a better idea than I do about what's right and wrong here. The writing is good and didn't have me cringing at sentence construction.
Here's what I didn't like so much about it: First and most importantly, there's quite a bit of racism and xenophobia directed towards Roma people. The author uses words like "gypsy" and "pikies" related to them (and no Romani are characters in the story, just distant troublemakers who get snarled about by the nice rich English people). It's one thing to put these words in the mouths of loathsome characters to show how detestable they are, but in this case, it's coming from one of the more sympathetic characters in the book, and is entirely uncomplicated by anyone else. This character says things like, "Damned gypsies in the area again, out poaching our rabbits" (98) and "It was those goddamned pikies [...] Well, they're going to pay for this" (237).
I can't endorse a book with this kind of slur just sitting there. And anything dealing with the Romani is irrelevant to the book. The author could have left that out and nothing would have changed.
And no, it is not okay to say "gypsy." Here is an article that explains why. This excerpt is especially useful:
Okay, we cool on that point?The term "gypsy" is a non-preferred and often derogatory term for Roma people. For those of you who aren't aware of anti-Roma bigotry, the Roma are an indigenous people of Europe who continue to be pushed from nation to nation and mistreated. They are frequently denied legal status and therefore social services. There are many stereotypes about the Roma, but the most predominant is that they are all sociopathic drifters who steal children and anything else that isn't tied down.Like many ethnic minorities who have been deprived of legal means to support themselves and their families, the Roma have a high crime rate. This fact is used as an excuse to continue to discriminate against Romani people. The fact that many Romani people choose to "live apart" as a direct result of centuries of bigotry is also used against them.
Beyond that, I hated the main character. I mean, she cares about the horse she's part-owner of, and has a couple friends she's kind to. She's not a total monster. But her actions and motivations made no sense to me, and her behavior around the primary love interest baffled me, except that they seemed pretty typical for a character in a story like this. I get grossed out by things like women thinking they need a man to be bigger than they are, as though that is what really matters in the world, and this character brought it up enough that if I knew her in real life I'd be like ENOUGH. ALREADY. But I wouldn't be friends with her in real life, because I'm an intellectual and this character hates intellectuals.
The plot itself is predictable. If you've seen a movie before, you'll see where it's heading pretty quickly. In more ways than one, it's very Pride and Prejudice, and self-consciously so. This is not a high point for me, as I'm not an Austen fan. Also--and this is not a spoiler--don't give a character a name like Sin and then have the main character be fighting off the temptation of his "sex god" presence the whole time. That's ham-fisted.
This might be your thing, if you like formulaic love stories and beach reads. If so, you could buy it here or here or in paperback here. If overt racism bothers you, or if a mere nod to feminist principles that are thrown away at the drop of a hat will cause you to roll your eyes, skip it.