Friday, 14 September 2012
SUMMARY OF STORY
Tea seems to have everything: a gorgeous horse whom she is planning to compete on at high level, a great brother, fab friends. But emotional and family problems threaten her happiness, leading in turn to a terrible event which changes her life forever. As Tea struggles to cope with the aftermath she finds herself falling in love with her supportive step-cousin Jaden. But will this relationship help her come to terms with her problems or cause her even deeper hurt?
This blog was meant to be reserved for non-pony stories or adult books (both horsy and non horsy) so what is a young adult/teen horse story doing here? The answer is (as it is with so much in life!) sex. There’s a lot of it in the book and quite a bit of it in the review. Not really suitable for my more child friendly ponymadbooklovers blog!
If this book were a person my relationship with it would be a bit of a roller-coaster ride – going from a shaky start to a full-blown love affair (when I could not put the book down) but then degenerating into dissatisfaction as the honeymoon period wore off.
After reading the first few pages I thought oh dear typical modern teen horse novel. Heroine with a prodigious riding talent – check. 16 hand warmblood – check. Glam girlies discussing boys and looks – check. However, as I had heard good things about the book, I decided to read on. And I soon found that this book was in fact actually quite far-removed from the typical teen horse story. Under the veneer of the usual equine young adult story, everything was slightly off-key and out of kilter and this originality was for me the outstanding element of the book. The reader soon learns that though our heroine seems to live a perfect life, things are not as they first appear.
This is brought home devastatingly by the extremely shocking, but extremely well-written scene where Tea is beaten by her step-father after disobeying him. The reader is expecting a lecture or perhaps a temper outburst, but this is actual physical abuse. This amazing scene immediately takes the story to a new level. Throughout the book, the issue of physical abuse is explored deeply and sensitively, from both sides of the problem. Another theme which is explored at length is that of grief and depression. Tea’s experience of both is portrayed realistically and with compassion.
The writing is accomplished, the characters are for the most part realistic, and the dialogue is very good, with the interaction between the brother and sister perhaps the highlight .
So, with all these good points, why did my ardour for the book begin to fade?
It was when the horsy side of the story (incidentally realistic and authentic) began to be subsumed by the growing romance between Tea and Jaden. If only their relationship had stayed as a sub-plot to a main equine plot, my love affair with the book would have surely continued to until the end. As it was, the horsy side of things seemed to shrivel up and die under the all consuming shadow of the romance. At the same time so did my unadulterated passion for the story. I am actually using the relationship metaphor here for a purpose (it’s not just my literary conceit!) because far more than being a horse novel or a young adult story, this is in essence a romance not far removed from the old 'Mills and Boon' scenario. It should really have been called ‘Blaze of Passion’ rather than ‘Blaze of Glory.’
The relationship between Tea and Jaden actually starts off as an interesting and a refreshing backdrop to the horsy parts of the book. The growing obsession Tea starts to feel for Jaden is very well portrayed, as is the burgeoning closeness between them when Tea begins to share her pain with him. However as their relationship progresses from one-sided to mutual it begins to overtake the entire story. The ‘will they – won’t they?’ aspect of the pair's interactions becomes somewhat tedious. And the ever-lasting preamble to their first making love is drawn out longer than a period of Sting-style tantric sex. After a while it becomes like a session of eternal foreplay which goes on so long you start to lose interest and begin to think about what you are going to cook for dinner and if the curtains need cleaning or not. The reader longs to scream, For Heaven’s sake you two get the dirty deed over and done with!
I also felt the overly ‘gentlemanly’ approach of Jaden to sex was fairly unrealistic. In my experience men of that age have to be practically beaten off with sticks! (And no, that is not a metaphor!)
In other ways, however, Jaden is the typical Mills and Boon hero: gorgeous, rich, talented, with the usual beautiful girl rival to our heroine hovering in the background. He also shares that (for me at least) unendearing masterful streak which so many romantic heroes seem to possess. The scene where he picks Tea up and carries her out of the racing yard is pure (and the worst sort of) Mills and Boon, as is the initial intense dislike of the pair which soon blossoms into desire, after a myriad of misunderstandings and confusions.
I have read a lot of discussion about the unsavoury nature of the relationship due to the fact the pair are cousins (step-cousins not blood-related), or because of the age gap. However to me these issues are not as worrisome as the old-fashioned attitude to the gender dynamics between the pair. Throughout the story Jaden is almost always made out to be the one in the right, and Tea is slowly made to conform to his viewpoint. In just about every way he is dominant, with her becoming subservient. His mood swings and blowing hot and cold, his bossy overpowering behaviour and moralising are seen to be justified because they are the result of his caring for her, but although he gets away with unacceptable behaviour in this way, Tea is made to seem childish and irresponsible when she doesn’t behave perfectly. Supposedly it is Tea’s wild streak which attracts Jaden, but once he has her in his grasp he loses no time in trying to subdue it. This is perfectly illustrated by the way he keeps her under overly-tight wraps on the polo field. Even in their sexual relationship he is the one who calls the shots and decides when they will consummate their relationship, whilst Tea’s sexual needs are ignored. In some ways the heroines of the 1950s pony stories were more enlightened and independent than poor lovesick Tea. I can’t see the likes of Jill Crewe for example submitting to the will of Jaden! I don’t want to get too much on my feminist hobby horse here, but I feel it’s a shame that such old-fashioned attitudes to gender politics should be displayed in this day and age in a book aimed at teenage girls.
Because the relationship between Jaden and Tea dominates the book, there is a lot less horsy content than I would have liked, particularly as the novel appears to be marketed as a pony/horse story. This is a pity, as the equine parts of the book are very well done and, because of the author’s experience in the field, authentic. The polo aspect in particular is interesting, as it is not seen in too many horse stories. Unfortunately even most of the polo matches are portrayed more in terms of the relationship of Tea and Jaden than that between her and her horse. I feel that the book should have been marketed as a teen romance rather than a horse story; in that way the reader would have been more prepared for the turn the story takes.
As a romance and a study of teenage problems and issues the book is excellent. It is certainly far better written than the average teen pony story and has a much greater emotional depth than most. But as an actual horse story, for me it fails somewhat. Of course I am slightly biased against romances and if you love them, you will probably love this book too. Likewise a lot of teenage girls, full of hormones and romantic notions will probably devour the story hungrily. For those, like me, who don’t relish the Mills and Boon angle and are perhaps a bit more jaded, the relationship aspect of the book may pall a little. The fact that the book concentrates a lot on themes such as sex, drugs and physical abuse also makes this an unsuitable read for younger horselovers. Not that any of this is done in a salacious or tacky way, it must be added. However it does once again narrow the field of potential readers.
A sequel is apparently planned and one can only hope that with the first passion of her relationship with Jaden out of the way, Tea can get on with the really important stuff in life – horses! In that case I’d certainly be back to renew my affair with the books!