The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley (audio review)

July 26, 2018 Book Reviews 2 ★★★★★

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley (audio review)The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley
Published by Audible Studios, Sourcebooks Landmark on Nov. 22, 2016 (Audible edition; book first published 1997)
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 421
Format: Audiobook
Source: purchased
Purchase: Amazon | Bookshop | Barnes & Noble | Audible
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Also by this author: Named of the Dragon, Bellewether, The Vanished Days

The invincible ninth Roman Legion marches from York to fight the Northern tribes, and then vanishes from the pages of history. When Verity Grey goes looking for them, she may find more than she bargained for.

Archaeologist Verity Grey has been drawn to the dark legends of the Scottish Borderlands in search of the truth buried in a rocky field by the sea.

Her eccentric boss has spent his whole life searching for the resting place of the lost Ninth Roman Legion and is convinced he's finally found it-not because of any scientific evidence, but because a local boy has "seen" a Roman soldier walking in the fields, a ghostly sentinel who guards the bodies of his long-dead comrades.

Here on the windswept shores, Verity may find the answer to one of the great unsolved mysteries of our time. Or she may uncover secrets someone buried for a reason.

A modern gothic historical fiction with elements of mystery, ghosts, and romance from New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Susanna Kearsley.


Like Named of the Dragon (review), The Shadowy Horses reminds me of Mary Stewart’s novels, with a little less suspense and considerably more archaeology — not to mention a ghost. A Roman legionary, in fact, possibly from the legendary and ill-fated Ninth Legion, Legio IX Hispana. The Ninth Legion was stationed in Britain, and all but disappears from the historical record after 108 CE, though a few inscriptions suggest at least a detachment may have been at Nijmegen (Netherlands) after 120. The real-life fate of the legion is still unknown, the subject of scholarly speculation and research over the years. One theory, popularized by Rosemary Sutcliffe in The Eagle of the Ninth, is that the Hispana marched north into Caledonia (Scotland) and met with some disaster. Ms. Kearsley has taken that theory and crafted a wonderful novel of belief, love, and obsession. Her ideas of what befell the Ninth make sense, though there is no way to prove it.

Kearsley writes beautifully. Her characters are well developed and depicted with (for the most part) warm, almost affectionate precision. Sally Armstrong reads the audiobook, and has done a good job with the various voices and accents, from cultured Anglo-Irish gentry to upper-crust English to “braed Scots.” The heroine’s Scots dictionary proves invaluable in translating Scots terms for the reader as well as for Verity herself.

All the threads of the story held my attention, from the interpersonal relationships of the group of archaeologists working on the dig and others connected to the Rosehill household, to the young psychic, Robbie McMorran, and the ghost only he can see, to the quest for the Ninth Legion itself. The growing feelings between the heroine (and first-person narrator), Verity Grey, and archaeologist and local son David Fortune are only one thread among many in the Rosehill tapestry — or perhaps I should say, one piece in the archeaological puzzle. Ultimately, Kearsley brings all the bits together seamlessly, with no missing or extra pieces; I can only admire the way all the details dovetail when finally seen from the right angle.

I love the subtle delicacy with which Kearsley writes romantic relationships. Verity is drawn to David Fortune from the start, and he to her, but their relationship evolves slowly, initially through small glances and oblique comments. Their first kiss comes well after the half-way point, more than two-thirds of the way through the book. Like Stewart, Kearsley never goes into graphic detail, though the general gist is never in doubt. Her heroines’ tendency to draw a curtain over physical intimacy reads as reticence rather than prudishness, a sense that what happens between lovers is theirs alone, and not to be shared.

I loved the book almost as much as The Winter Sea and A Desperate Fortune. I’m going right on to The Firebird, which links The Shadowy Horses to The Winter Sea through the present-day presence of Rob McMorran, now a grown man, and the 18th-century character, Anna, the daughter of two characters from The Winter Sea. And I’ll be making room on my physical bookshelves for Kearsley’s books; I’ve quite fallen in love with them, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be rereading and relistening to them for years to come.



About Susanna Kearsley

Bestselling author Susanna Kearsley says of herself:

I’m a former museum curator, avid amateur genealogist, and writer of modern gothic novels that interweave contemporary suspense and romance with historical adventure, meaning they don’t fit neatly into any category and are therefore a marketer’s nightmare.

The Bookseller once said of me, in a review, “She has a poetic sensibility and a sense of mystery; she could write the modern REBECCA.”

So that’s what I strive for.

Ms. Kearsley’s bestselling books, published in translation in more than 20 countries, have won the Catherine Cookson Fiction Prize, RT Reviewers’ Choice Awards, a RITA Award, and National Readers’ Choice Awards, and have finaled for the UK’s Romantic Novel of the Year and the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel.

She lives near Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • COYER Birthday Bash 2018
  • The Backlist Reader Challenge 2018

2 Responses to “The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley (audio review)”

  1. Lark

    This is my favorite Susanna Kearsley book! I love everything about it: the archaeology, the mystery, the ghost, and of course, David and Verity. 😀