Review Blog

Oct 15 2013

A horse called Hero by Sam Angus

cover image

Macmillan Children's Books, 2013. ISBN 9781447235774.
(Age: Mid secondary) Having a familiar Second War War evacuation theme, this novel involves diverse and interesting historical elements within a complex but satisfying plot.
When Dorothy (Dodo) and her brother Wolfie are sent to the Devon countryside to escape the German bombing, they are initially unaware that their father (who holds a Victoria Cross from the First World War) has been arrested on charges of desertion during the retreat at Dunkirk. Having no mother, the children are billeted into the home of a disinterested village woman yet life is bearable, especially when Wolfie finds himself the primary carer for a newborn foal which he names Hero. As details of their father's predicament become public however, life becomes insufferable for the children when local villagers, grieving over their own wartime bereavements and hardships begin to persecute and victimise them. Luckily, the local priest and his daughter Hettie offer their home and guardianship to the children and they exist relatively happily against a backdrop of foreboding invasion threats and fears regarding the treatment of their imprisoned father who endures a drawn out court martial. The children explore the countryside and develop knowledge and understanding of the natural environment, wild and domestic horses and human characteristics. Hero's role in the tale is vital but further discussion would spoil the story. It is suffice to say that qualities of horses and their masters are considered and the reader can't help reflecting upon the odious aspects of human nature.
This story opens in a gentle fashion which initially appears to follow a predictable formula. The introduction of a very nasty documented war crime and depiction of the fate of local wild ponies under harsh wartime restrictions soon alerts the reader that this is no Blyton adventure however. I liked very much that the author chose to depict the child characters over an extended period when evacuees in other books would have been safely returned to their mothers. Wolfie, who is introduced as a very immature little boy is still under the care of Hettie when the war has finished and Dodo, the understated heroine finds employment, which is in keeping with her mature character. This device enables the story to conclude with the inclusion of yet another historically accurate subject which is not too implausible for young adult fiction. Whilst this novel contains some untidy scene changes, it is a strong story and a worthwhile read for mid-secondary students.
Rob Welsh

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