black stallion series · Uncategorized

The Final Countdown: Black Stallion Madness

Well, it’s time. After 20 books and three years, we’re here.

What is the absolute craziest moment in the entire Black Stallion series?

I admit, my personal favorite (the Black Stallion fights a bull moose TO THE DEATH) lost out in the last round, so I’m going to have to think long and hard about my own vote here.

I’ll announce the winner on Monday. Vote early, vote often!

black stallion series · Uncategorized

Black Stallion Madness Semifinals

Here’s where the decisions really get hard. If you missed my first post, kin which I laid out my own listing & power ranking of the craziest things to happen in the Black Stallion series, go check it out.

The results of that first round of voting are in, and now we are down to just four. So: vote! Which two craziest moments deserve to move on to the final?

 

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Summer Series: The Black Stallion Legend

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After Alec experiences a devastating loss, he takes the Black out west, where a group of Native Americans believe he fulfills their prophecy for the end of the world.

Last but certainly not least, a book that may or may not end with the actual apocalypse. No, I’m not being hyperbolic. The actual. Apocalypse.

But we have a ways to go before we get there.

This book picks up not too long after the end of The Black Stallion and the Girl, with Alec still thinking about his place in the world and his goals as a rider, breeder, and trainer. He also reflects on his physical ailments after five years or so spent as a jockey. Like anyone with prolonged exposure to horses, his body is a wreck.

Anyway, he thinks about a new filly they have running, that they named Pam’s Song, after Pam. Which. Pam left A MONTH AGO how did they have time to do that??? Did they change her name with the Jockey Club?

A little over three months ago she had been a nonentity in the Hopeful Farm Stable, a good-looking sort of big lazy filly, one of many at the farm, promising but not proven. Then they had raced her conservatively in three races where the competition had not been tough, and she had won all of them.

The timeline and logistics here are just baffling to me, because this had to have been during the last book except they never mention that Alec is racing other horses and his moves are pretty well accounted for and seriously their whole business model is just fucked. Not only does it not make sense, but it changes from book to book.

The race is again during hideous weather that really would never actually have a race.

The snow had stopped falling but the gale-force wind almost swept him out of the saddle.

Anyway, during the race the saddle slips and Alec almost dies but he makes it through, thought the filly does not finish in the money. Alec reflects briefly that Henry is going to blame the saddle slipping on him being inattentive at the start of the race, not Henry not cinching it up properly, which is kind of the frosting on the whole “Henry has become a gaslighting, abusive asshole” storyline that’s been going for a few books now.

Alec heads back to the farm and thinks more about his life.

Satan nickered and came to the iron bars of his stall, eager for attention. Even after so short a time away from the farm, Alec was impressed by Satan’s size. He had put on more weight and was huge compared to the Black, so massive, so powerful in chest and shoulders.

YOU GUYS SATAN’S BACK. TEAM SATAN FOREVER!

Anyway, he’s not really back, I’m just excited that Alec remembers he exists. Even if Alec continues to fat shame him.

While he’s taking care of the farm, he picks up the newspaper, and sees an article on the front page about the death of four young American women in a car crash in the Alps and…yep, you guessed it, one of them was Pam.

Here’s where I have to take a serious moment and acknowledge that Pam’s character was based on Walter Farley’s real daughter Pamela, who really did die in a car crash in Europe, and it was a horrific and devastating thing for him to go through. That’s not something any parent should have to endure. So I want to make clear that when I mock Pam and/or the events of this book, I’m reacting only to the characters and the writing, ok? Ok.

So: Pam is dead, and Alec has an actual mental breakdown. I know I sort of joked about him losing it in The Black Stallion and the Ghost but he actually totally has a break with reality here.

He continued screaming Pam’s name but the cries from his throat were nothing but a funnel of white in the cold, cold air…He lay in the snow in a frightening state of disintegration. His distress over the loss of Pam was fearful, but he knew something was wrong with his mind, something that had been triggered by his tragic loss. He could feel it.

He comes back to himself many hours later, and he’s driving a truck and horse trailer through a snowstorm. Actually, he doesn’t realize he’s driving a horse trailer at first, he just thinks he’s driving the truck, even though it skids out a number of times. He looks in the rearview mirror and that’s when he sees the horse trailer. Which. NO. That has to be among the more unrealistic things that’s ever happened in these books, right?

He drives and drives and drives, and we cut back to Hopeful Farm, where Henry and Alec’s dad realize that he’s gone.

“I had Dr. Warson over to the house last night, and we talked about what we should do to find Alec.”

“Your friend, the psychiatrist? That’s crazy!” Henry said, concerned and angry. “What good is he?”

What an absolute scumbag Henry turned out to be. He went from charming and kooky and slightly grumpy to actively sabotaging Alec at every turn over the course of these books.

“[Dr. Warson, the psychiatrist] said we must realize what Alec has gone through since he first found the Black in that horrible shipwreck, which almost cost him his life. Then he had to spend all those months on that remote island until he was rescued. David said Alec’s been through several traumas, and it was a wonder to him, as a medical man, that Alec has been able to cope with his life as he’s done. It most certainly has not been any kind of a normal life for anybody, let alone a young man. Since he’s had the Black, he’s experienced one grim adventure after another.”

WHAT!!!

I feel smugly justified right now in my initial call that this whole series of books makes more sense if Alec is suffering from severe PTSD throughout.

Dr. Warson tells Alec’s father that they shouldn’t pursue Alec, because if they do, the results might be “tragic” which I think is him hinting that Alec might commit suicide?

Back to Alec, who drives until he reaches somewhere in the Southwest. He passes a number of Native Americans and his views on them are somewhere on the intersection of paternalizing, racist, and sort of grimly realistic. Like, he keeps thinking about how downtrodden they look but he also talks and thinks about how mysterious they are and it’s just weird and awkward.

He pulls the truck and trailer over to a mesa and gets out. And then he turns the Black loose. He has no plan for any of this. He’s acting on pure instinct and mental unbalance.

Then…I think the best possible explanation of what happens next is that Alec thinks he turns into a horse. He runs around with a herd of wild horses and um it’s really weird. In a really sad kind of way.

Throwing back his head, he uttered loud, wavering neighs to the distant horses. Then he broke into a run, his muscular legs moving rhythmically, effortlessly…So for a long while he was able to stay within sight of the wild horses and think of himself as one of them.

It’s not clear how long it takes before he comes back to himself, but when he does he realizes he’s in the middle of nowhere, with no plan, no food, no nothing.

Luckily, he happens across a young Indian boy, who first asks him if he’s one of the “loco” people who sound like hippies on a permanent acid trip. The boy tells him about a local prophecy.

“We must have patience to await the One who will lead us to a safe place while the rest of the world is destroyed. There we will live peacefully with each other until it is time to emerge and help create a new world.

I do not know what shape he will take but he will be riding the swift mount of Father Sun, a horse as black as the deepest blackness except for a small white spot in the center of his forehead. He will have great speed and magical powers. I will have no trouble recognizing such a horse.”

You get three guesses as to what happens next and the first two don’t count.

Yeah, the Black shows up, and he’s been fighting, and he has a new scar! On his forehead! That makes…wait for it…a small white spot on his forehead.

The boy decides that Alec is The One from the prophecy and freaks out and leaves. Alec is kind of baffled and confused but tries to follow but sort of fails at it? It’s not entirely clear whether he gets lost or goes in the wrong direction or what.

He and the Black come across a canyon, at the end of which are ruins that sound sort of Pueblo-esque. They enter this canyon and are boxed in by the loco people, and shit gets weird.

They were close enough now for him to make out the ornaments of bones, feathers and teeth they wore on their naked painted bodies. Their heads were shaved, their eyes heavy-lidded and colorless. They moved toward him in a huge mass, twitching their bodies from side to side and gibbering in a maniacal, feverish chant.

The loco people attack them by throwing rocks and things at them, and then physically attack them.

The Black bolted forward, but it was not to escape the milling mass of ghastly figures. He reached out for the nearest one, grabbing him with savage teeth and lifting him from the ground. He shook him vigorously before flinging him back to the earth.

It still doesn’t quite work, and this whole sequence is trippy and weird. The loco people chase Alec to the other end of the canyon, and they sort of go past the ruins to find a huge crater, with a road down to the bottom. Alec doesn’t want to go down, but the loco people chase them to the edge of the crater, and then start going down the path, so they go down, and through a sort of weird tunnel, and then:

He saw a great chamber, the size of a tremendous cathedral, oval-shaped and bathed in the golden rays of the late afternoon sun, which came through a long but narrow opening in the lofty heights above!

The cavern is also full of smaller caves, and the floor is carpeted with green grass, and there’s a stream running through it. Oh, and there’s an old man hanging out there who is NOT in good shape.

“I have been waiting for you all the years of my life,” the old Indian said. “You  have come at last.”

So: this guy is the grandfather of the boy who found Alec earlier. He is dying. He is too weak to stand up and his body is covered in lesions and open sores. He tells Alec about the prophecy again, Alec denies it again, but then decides to go along with it in the hopes that the old man will tell him how to get out of the chamber.

Joke’s on him, the old man dies right in front of him and Alec…picks up the body and carries it to one of the caves? There are some really graphic descriptions of how sick the old man was and frankly I would not have touched him. He’s already lost in an underground cavern in the middle of the desert with no food, he does NOT need some unidentified illness on top of everything.

Anyway, he and the Black find a tunnel that he thinks will lead out, and it mostly does. He thinks the old man must have come in this way because he finds a torch that’s still warm. Because THAT makes sense.

The tunnel is not entirely the way out, because it’s partially blocked, and when Alec moves some of the rocks, he somehow triggers water to flow into the tunnel and honestly this part made NO sense. At all. Just know that somehow they went from squeezing through a tunnel and hopefully heading toward the surface to floating and almost drowning and then magically outside.

He finds the same boy from earlier, and makes it to the local village. This chapter is called “Hopeless People” and there’s a lot of squicky stuff about how Alec always imagined Indians to be a proud, fierce people and these people are profoundly poverty stricken, miserable, and without any direction. It’s somewhere in between obnoxious and mildly socially aware.

Like many others, who had read schoolbooks and stories, he had thought the lives of Indians were bright and colorful, as beautiful as the jewelry they made, as colorful as their paintings and ceremonies. Instead he had found them in poverty and sickness, living on scrubland, sweating all day to cultivate enough food to eat, and freezing at night in dilapidated shacks, clothed in rags and sleeping on dirt floors. Actually, from what he had seen they were not the chosen people at all, but among the most hopeless people on earth.

Regardless, they welcome him and he beds the Black down and goes to sleep…and then wakes up in the middle of the night.

Afterward Alec went outside to stand in the swiftly falling night, wondering how he could change these people’s minds about him and obtain their help. When the men returned, he would tell them that there was no need to go to the sacred pueblo. They could see that the world was not coming to an end, despite their fearful prophecy.

While he’s outside, he thinks he sees Pam, and he thinks that she’s warning him of danger. Then he notices that a blue light in the sky is getting larger and brighter, and he decides it’s a meteoroid.

With sick dread, Alec realized that the meteoroid was going to crash close by, and none of them had a chance of staying alive in the holocaust that must come! EARTHFIRE!

Emphasis definitely not mine. This is the point at which the book moves from “weird, but not out of a standard deviation of weird from a normal Black Stallion book” to “oh holy shit we are so far off the rails now there’s no going back.”

Here we go.

The meteoroid crashes. The Black freaks out. Alec smells burning and everyone from the village runs screaming. They see Alec mounted on the Black.

Somehow, what he was doing seemed strangely right to him, now. It was as if he were suspended in a dram, viewing everything quite calmly when he should have felt only fear in what he had to do…return to the sacred pueblo.

They start to flee back to the underground cavern, and Alec is in a sort of fugue state. People are screaming all around him, everything is on fire, and there are apparently “gases rising from the earth.” But he’s fine with it all. He’s just sort of riding the Black in a dream, heading back to the pueblo.

It’s entirely unclear what exactly is going on: there was a meteoroid crash, but there is also an earthquake, and there is also a lot of just random debris crashing around everywhere. At one point, while they are fleeing, they come across the loco people, who try to join them, but they are all killed when another big rock crashes or another chasm opens up or…I dunno, I was kind of picturing Frodo and Sam at Mount Doom here.

Finally, Alec staggered to his feet. “Running away, like dying, is easy,” he said aloud. “It’s the living that’s hard.”

Yes, Alec, because what a huge group of terrified people escaping the apocalypse need is fucking platitudes. Holy shit.

They travel for some indeterminate length of time and it’s all awful and terrifying and confusing. They get to the cavern, and they all settle in and rest for a bit.

The Black lowered his head to the water, and Alec heard the pulling suck of his lips as the fluid gurgled up the rings of his throat.

That is both the weirdest and grossest description I’ve ever heard of a horse drinking.

For reasons that are totally opaque to me, Alec leaves. He was like 3/4 of the way to believing this really was the end of the world and he really had led these people to safety…but he still decides to leave. He makes his way back to where he left his truck and trailer.

The light from the sun had moved down, reddening the way before them, when Alec reached his truck and trailer buried deep in sand and ash. He rode up to what remained of the hulking body of the engine, then alongside the flattened horse trailer, its body splintered into pieces strewn about the area.

See what I mean about having no idea exactly what kind of disaster this is?

Somehow, Alec makes it to a local emergency shelter in Flagstaff, Arizona, and that chapter starts with a news broadcast that notes that there are earthquakes all over the world, the most devastating ever recorded, and oh by the way, Alec Ramsay is here! Why the local news felt the need to insert that tidbit alongside “the world might be ending” is an open question.

Alec and the Black hang out at the shelter for a while, and the news keeps coming in and getting worse. I did a little bit of research on other big earthquakes, and the ones the book is describing would be among the worst that have occurred in the history of the world, and they’re happening all over the world at the same time for no discernible reason. The entire city of Moscow had to be evacuated. There was a quake on the east coast of the US that could be felt from Georgia to Canada.

Alec finally gets in touch with his parents and Henry; his father is too overcome with emotion to talk to him on the phone, so Henry gets on and reports that Hopeful Farm is in bad shape.

“Awful. We’re starting to clean up. Lots of work but it’s not hopeless. Most of the barns are down but fortunately the horses were outside. The house is okay and no one’s been hurt. There’s a deep fissure where the training track used to be. It’s awful but at the same time it’s a miracle that we’re alive.

Alec could barely make out the old trainer’s words when Henry added, “It looks like we’re goin’ to have to start all over again, Alec. An’ we’re lucky to be having a chance to do it.”

They have a brief talk about riding and handling horses for the joy of it, not to make money, and then this is, I swear to you, the end of the last book in the Black Stallion series.

The floor beneath Alec’s feet tilted as a sharp tremor came from deep within the earth.

Alec held on to the phone, knowing this too would pass.

“Henry, can you hear me?”

There was no answer.

WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK.

A sentiment that sums up both my feelings on this book and on most of them.

Well, what do you think? Was this a good way to end the entire series of twenty (!) books?

Do you think the world really did end, or was Walter Farley just being dramatic?

I’ve been going back and forth on this question for weeks now, and I still can’t decide what I think happened, and what I want to have happened.

Stay tuned in the next few weeks for some fun audience participation surveys on the whole series. I’ll also do a roundup post linking to all of my reviews, if you want to binge.

black stallion series · Uncategorized

Summer Series: The Black Stallion and the Girl

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When a young woman named Pam answers an ad to work at Hopeful Farm, Alec totally loses his mind has to make decisions about the path of his life.

Right off the bat, let’s get this out of the way: this book gets huge bonus points for doing a couple of really simple things. (I’m not saying it does them well, but it does them.)

  • including a woman as an actual living, breathing character
  • introducing horses who are not the Black
  • making Alec actually think about what he wants out of life
  • at least trying to connect the events of the story to current social conversations

I don’t know if it’s fair to include the bullet point of “outs Henry as a huge fucking asshole, which is where he’s been trending for the last dozen or so books,” but it does that too!

The book starts with employment difficulties at Hopeful Farm, and let’s remember here that Hopeful Farm is the breeding/training farm that’s supposedly Alec’s base. They have something like a couple dozen horses there, plus three stallions (the Black, Satan, and Wintertime, remember him?). They breed AND train. It’s a big operation.

And he wants to hire ONE person to do…all of it. There’s a brief mention of “maintenance” help and a foaling guy but this person is supposed to do everything else. All the handling, grooming, feeding, and training. ONE person. No wonder they have a horrible time keeping good help.

A new person answers the ad, and GASP, it’s a GIRL.

The girl appeared in his open doorway and said, “Good morning, Sun…I mean, sir.”

“Sun,” she repeated, laughing. “S…u…n. It’s crazy, I know, but I always say it in the morning, and people look at me just as startled as you do. I guess it’s because I feel good when the sun is out.”

Pam is a capital-H-Hippy. I think there’s a reasonable argument to be made that she either spends this entire book high as fuck, or that she’s dropped so much acid that her brain is not…entirely…all there. Don’t get me wrong: she’s genuinely nice, and a really interesting character, but she also must be totally infuriating to interact with.

“Very few kids would stay with it,” he said defensively. “It’s hard and often dirty work, much more than they realize from books and movies. The time spent training them is lost. Few – if any – would remain.”

“I know,” she said. “I’d go, too, after a while; that is, even if you did hire me.”

Two things we learn about Pam pretty quickly: she really does know what she’s doing (she’s been riding and handling horses her whole life) and she is a Free Spirit who won’t be tied down to anything or anyone. She basically takes this job saying that she’s going to quit at some undefined point in the near future, whenever she feels like it. Alec finds that charming but he knows it will make Henry nuts.

The old trainer had no use for girls around barns. The would see only her femininity, and her honest candor would infuriate him.

Henry – and many of the character in this book – zooms way past sexist and straight into misogynistic. For example, here’s what he says about Becky Moore, a jockey who’s introduced as “the girl jock” a bit later.

“The right size but the wrong sex,” Henry continued. The girl was about five feet, one inch tall and weighed around 100 pounds, the ideal size for a rider. “Too bad. She’d like to have been a boy.”

“I don’t like to see girls around horseman….just because of their sex, they create problems we wouldn’t have otherwise. It takes a man’s mind off his work. They get emotionally involved, everything…I think a woman should be a woman and a mother and everything that goes with it.”

Anyway, Pam passes the test – basically Alec puts her on a colt named Black Sand who he feels pretty sure will dump her. She handles the colt quite well, and Alec leaves her in charge of the whole farm and runs off to race the Black at Aqueduct.

Henry rants and rants while they’re at the track about women and how they ruin everything and Alec reflects that Henry actively bullies any of the women he sees at the track by picking on every single thing he thinks they do wrong, and he basically implies that they sleep around to get their jobs. It’s really, really gross.

A lot of this book is in Alec’s head, and not in a psychedelic way like the last book, but more like Alec – old before his time but still technically somewhere in his late 20s – is supposed to be our conduit to understanding how society is changing around the characters. While Henry is ranting, Alec thinks a lot about how he’s always been raised to respect his elders and listen to and accept everything they say, but that the times, they are a-changing. He also has a nifty political moment when he thinks about how shittily everyone at the track is paid for all the hard work they do with absolutely no backup plans.

In Alec’s opinion, there was nothing explosive about women trying to get an even break. As with all minority groups, they were trying to get a piece of the action, equality of opportunity. He kept his silence, knowing that his beliefs – if he expressed them – would do no good. Henry’s tirade against women was based on emotion, not logic.

You guys, Alec went and got woke! So did Walter Farley! It’s hamfisted but it’s pretty great, and it’s a running theme throughout the book. It’s awesome. That said, it’s still problematic as hell because – well, you’ll see.

In the meantime,

Sex prejudice was no less evil than racial or religious bias, Alec decided.

Hell yeah, Alec!

After Henry is done ranting, Alec tells him, oh yeah, I hired a girl. Henry orders him to fire her. After implying that Alec hired her in order to sleep with her – which, Henry, have you been paying attention? The only person Alec has had the hots for in this entire series was Raj from The Black Stallion Returns.

Alec gets angry enough about Henry’s order to push back pretty hard, and Henry flat-out says to him that he has to choose between him and Pam. So Alec trudges back to Hopeful Farm and plans on firing her. Basically he reasons out that Henry is more important to their business than Pam is. It’s actually not a bad argument from a logic standpoint, but it ignores, you know, everything else.

He goes to fire Pam, and finds she’s re-decorated the apartment with “psychedelic art of colorful, intricate design” and is reading a book of poetry by Leonard Cohen. Good for her! Leonard Cohen is awesome. Did I ever think I’d get to shout-out to Leonard Cohen while reviewing a Black Stallion book? Walter Farley is vast and contains multitudes, you guys.

Anyway, he never finds Pam, even after creepily searching through her whole apartment including her photo album. The next morning, he checks in and Pam has been doing what he asked her to do, training the horses, and thankfully we also find out that she’s not doing stalls. We meet two new horses, Black Pepper (Black Minx’s daughter! When did they have time to breed her? NOBODY KNOWS.) and Black Out and the naming scheme is both dumb and kind of fun.

Her clothes were jeans, a white blouse and brown, worn loafers. No boots; no masculinity. And in the filly’s mane were braided flowers of yellow, pink and blue.

I have so many questions, such as, who gallops racehorses in loafers? since when are riding boots “masculine”? and when did she have time to braid flowers in Black Pepper’s mane?

Alec and Pam work together with their horses and it’s a suprisingly nice long stretch of just two people figuring out their horses together. It’s really great! Alec watches Pam ride and is appreciative of her light touch, and they problem solve the filly’s issues with the starting gate together. Pam name-drops that she rode with Captain Bill Heyer and Stanley White, two real people.

While they’re hanging out together, Alec realizes how happy he is at Hopeful Farm – which is something he knew way back in The Black Stallion and Satan, which in retrospect is really where these books took a sharp left turn. Alec was a homebody who didn’t want to race the Black. Now he’s impatient to keep racing faster and faster for more money. Pam points out that he doesn’t think of horses as friends anymore, and she’s totally right.

Alec thinks a lot more about what he really wants out of life, and watches Pam braid flowers into Black Sand’s hair.

There was no point in this girl’s ever having a luxurious home when she so obviously preferred a horse barn, he decided.

PAM IS ALL OF US.

Anyway, that night Alec checks in with his dad, who agrees with Henry.

Pam was doing her job well, his father had said. There was no fault to be found with her work, but it wasn’t right to have an attractive girl working around men even there at the farm.

His mom is also the worst!

Girls should not compete with men in the racing world, she said. It was too rough. Horse shows were much better for them. There they were treated like ladies. Girls should be more reserved and feminine. Otherwise, who would take care of the home and children?

Alec realizes all of a sudden that his parents are bigoted assholes, which is kind of a hard thing to have to absorb about your parents.

They were kind, wonderful parents, but Alec realized their remarks were lethal enough to poison the climate of feeling between generations. And he was further disturbed to think that they did not seem to consider him one of today’s youth.

In a lot of ways, Alec’s childhood vanished. He has no friends at all. He’s done the horse thing obsessively since he was 15 and got lost in that shipwreck. His formative influence has been Henry, who is as noted an asshole. This book is both Alec and Walter Farley realizing that he’s been backed into a corner.

Alec tells Pam all about what everyone thinks of her, and she is predictably not thrilled, because that is a shitty thing to do to someone. “Everyone hates you and here’s why and I can’t make up my mind! Should I hate you too? Also, please be my therapist?”

“I have to go back tomorrow,” he said. “Will you stay here, Pam?”

“Yes,” she said, meeting his eyes. “I want to stay very much.”

“Then it’s all settled,” he said. “Now we can talk about us.”

WHOA WHOA WHOA

RED ALERT

Alec, that is extortion. “Oh good, you’re staying, let’s fuck”??? NO. WAVE OFF. YOU ARE HER BOSS. Ugggggghhhhhhh. And before you say I’m reading too much into this, the book later implies pretty clearly that the fade to black at the end of that chapter was followed by sex. Coercive, weird, maybe not entirely consensual sex. Damn it. You were all doing so well!

Alec returns to the track the next day and the Black is happy to see them and wtf, they have their own farm a short drive away and they are stabling this poor horse at the track. Alec thinks guiltily that maybe he should have brought the Black back to the farm, YEAH, Alec, you should have! On the plus side, he does have a spot-on observation:

Horsemen who loved their horses were all alike, he thought. Each was filled with the same certainty that the horse he loved was the fastest, bravest, strongest, kindest, and smartest.

The whole next bit is devoted to Becky Moore, Girl Jockey. Now, the book’s treatment of Becky is…problematic. A lot of people make a lot of noise about her being A GIRL but we never actually meet or talk to her. She’s a token. She’s not very consistently portrayed, either. Is she tough? Does she act too tough? Who knows! She acts however the narrative wants her to in an given moment. She’s also like some Fox News conservative’s wet dream of how women are supposed to act in a workplace: don’t remind them you’re there, don’t make any waves, just put up and shut up.

Which does not stop literally everyone from speculating a) about how she’s sleeping with everyone at the track and b) that she keeps a big dog because everyone she’s not already sleeping with wants to rape her. WTF.

“Hey, Alec,” one rider called to him. “We’ve got a girl-driver on our hands today.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“Becky’s no girl,” another said. “She’s a tomboy. Did ya ever see her in a dress?”

blergh. Alec is at least a bit more circumspect.

What the male jockeys hadn’t mentioned, though Alec knew it was very much on their minds, was the fact that the girl riders threatened their earning power. They feared a greatly reduced income if girl jockeys successfully invaded their ranks.

Before Becky’s race, Alec and Henry have one final showdown in which Henry threatens to leave the business if Alec keeps Pam, and when Alec is sort-of firm (he mostly doesn’t talk while Henry rants) finally decides that Alec can keep his little trollop on the side as long as she never shows up at the track.

Alec corrects none of his assumptions, though he very astutely realizes that there’s no way Henry’s going to walk away from the business. But he also doesn’t exactly stand up for himself or for Pam either. Alec is that guy who supports you by email but does jack shit when there’s actually stuff going on.

Becky’s race goes fine except there’s a whole bit where our racist Irish stereotype jockey from The Black Stallion’s Courage seems to feel the need to protect her? Or some bullshit? Anyway, she wins the race through some hard riding.

Henry was the first to turn away from the window. “Big deal,” he told a reporter. “She gets a horse that’s pounds the best and manages not to fall off.”

Fuck you, Henry.

Henry’s attitude at least starts to make Alec think hard about what his actual goals are out of his life and career. Henry has become the guy who only cares about how much money they can make racing, and how many horses they can beat. Alec wonders if he’s missing something – if he’s lost the love of his horse and of racing that made him fall in love with the sport to begin with.

Alec heads back up to Hopeful Farm for the weekend, and he and Pam have a whole moonlight interlude in the fields with conversations that go like this.

“You’ll never fall, Pam, not you. But even if you did, I’d be there to catch you.” Then, seeing that she was truly afraid, he took her in his arms and kissed her.

“I believe you would catch me,” she said, her face pressed against his, “because it takes life to love life. And I am you as you are you as you are me.”

“That’s a very nice thought,” he said.

…WHAT?!

Anyway, after his weekend getaway/booty call, Alec heads back to the track and races the Black again, only it doesn’t go well. He gets boxed in and he rides poorly and the Black gets out of control and sort of…shoves his way through other horses? Anyway, because of the way it happens, a bunch of the other jockeys (including Becky!) file complaints against him and the Black is disqualified. Basically the Black acts, for 5 seconds, like the horse he used to be 10 books ago and everyone freaks out. Including Henry, who blames Pam. Who shows up at the track, because Alec invited her but didn’t really expect her to come.

“I know it isn’t for his beauty and pretty ways that you love him, Alec, but see the crimson flower in his eyes!”

Alec moved to her side to find out what she meant. With Pam here, he thought, he must be prepared to see many new things. The Black’s eyes were shining with a red glow that had terrified many people in the past. Pam saw it as a crimson flower.

again, WHAT?!

Henry and Pam have it out. Alec does JACK SHIT. He just stands there and watches Henry say nasty things and Pam sort of float through the conversation defending, mostly, Alec – not herself. Somehow at the end of that conversation, they all decide that Pam should race Black Sand in his debut the next week. Yeah, honestly, it makes zero sense to me either. They get her an apprentice license, and, well – it goes badly.

But, suddenly, Black Sand took two quick jumps to the outside. Pam tried to stop him as he bolted crazily across the track. Alec caught a glimpse of the outer rail and knew that the colt would run full tilt into it.

“No!” he shouted at the top of his voice. Black Sand’s hurtling body crashed into the fence and Pam was catapulted high into the air!

Alec had jumped the rail and was on the track, running for the far turn when the field of horses swept by. With the track clear, the ambulance left the infield gate. Alec flagged it down and hopped into the front seat. A small crowd was already on the scene when they got there.

Black Sand was dead, his neck twisted and broken. White-faced, Alec kneeled beside the still, silk-clad figure that was Pam. His forehead was drenched in cold sweat, his body trembling uncontrollably.

Pam is totally fine, though, and he tells her Black Sand is dead.

Alec realized that Pam had known the moment the colt had died, for she and Black Sand had been one.

They all head back to the barns and Alec drops this truth bomb on her.

“Henry was right about girls’ racing,” Alec said. “It’s everything he said it was. It’s not for you.”

FUCK YOU, ALEC.

Pam has a solution though!

“I want to finish what I began,” she said. “Let me.”

“But how can we do that with no Black Sand?” Alec asked. He hadn’t wanted to mention the colt again, but she gave him no choice.

“By letting me ride your horse on Saturday,” she answered.

oh holy shit what

in the history of bad ideas this is a top 5 for sure

“I’ve ridden in one race and the horse died so let me ride the crazed murder-stallion in the big race on Saturday!”

WHAT.

BUT EVERYONE’S FINE WITH THIS.

They put Pam up on the Black for an exercise run and he…bolts. Of course he does! But she gets control of him after a turn or two. Sort of. Honestly, not really, but she doesn’t die or kill him so everyone gives the thumbs up for her to race him!

It literally happens that fast, guys. After endless chapters about how dumb girls are and how Alec should just live in the moment, man, in the space of 2 chapters Black Sand dies and Pam is riding the Black in the big race.

It’s not a great race. The Black is an unrideable asshole, but Pam at least points him roughly in the right direction and do you honestly need me to tell you that they win? They win. Of course they win. No one in these books loses races.

Anyway, after the race, Pam heads back to the farm. Now, she’s been spending this whole book reminding Alec that she might leave at any moment, and soon after she gets to the farm, she tells him that she’s headed out that night. No two weeks of notice for her! She’s packing all her things in the car and heading out that night, for Virginia, and from there to Europe to bum around for a while doing horses. This is a pretty crappy way to be, but Alec does NOT help. He mopes and mansplains and tries to bribe her and also low-key threatens her. Classy guy, our Alec.

“You’ll be hurt, if you go on as you do,” Alec said. “They’re going to knock you down. You’ll find people who are lots worse than Henry, and you wo’nt be able to change them as you did him.”

“Then, when I come back, we’ll help to outbreed them,” she said gaily.

Out…breed…them? What does that even mean? Do I want to think about this too hard?

Nothing he does works, and she heads out, with promises to come back someday. He also makes promises to go visit her in Europe. It will all work out, they’re two crazy kids in love! Or weird obsession. Or lust. Who even knows.

Whenever he wasn’t with her, her fingers would be the wind and the wind her fingers, and all space would be the smile of her.

yeah, that’s the last sentence. Let me know if you have ANY idea what it’s supposed to mean.

So, did you remember this book? Are you more of a Pam or more of a Becky? Does Henry have any redeeming qualities left at this point? Did anything Pam said make any sense to you?

Finally, administrative note: next week is the LAST BOOK! I can’t believe it either! Don’t worry, I’ve got a few more general posts planned about the Black Stallion, including some audience participation stuff in which we try to collectively decide the actual craziest moment in the whole series.

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Summer Series: The Black Stallion’s Ghost

Image result for the black stallion and the ghost

Alec and the Black discover a mysterious white mare in the Florida Everglades

Okay, so remember how we all thought that aliens going to Azul Island was weird?

That book was a model of internal logic and sensible plotting compared to this one.

Also, remember how I complained that The Black Stallion Challenged didn’t have much plot? It’s like Walter Farley heard that and said “Hold my beer.”

Here is what happens in this book: Alec and the Black get lost in the Everglades overnight and encounter a weird dude and his mare. That’s it. THAT’S IT. REALLY.

But oh, holy crap, the insanity that happens in those swamps…!

We start the book at a circus performance in Stockholm, where a gray mare performs a liberty act, taking her cues from some very weird music. She runs through the haute ecole movements (like the Spanish Riding School), piaffes and passages, and generally puts on what sounds like a really impressive freestyle without a rider or anyone on the ground directing her.

Hanging out in the wings is her owner/trainer, who is introduced as Captain Philippe de Pluminel. He trained at the Cadre Noir in France and he’s black – of Haitian ancestry – and 99.9% of what Walter Farley writes about him is vaguely-to-explicitly racist. It’s…not great.

He believed strongly in the powers of the small figurine, for his Haitian blood and heritage had made him more superstitious than most men.

Pluminel is grumpy that people don’t appreciate his mare the way he thinks they should, and then his mind sort of wanders down lots of paths including thinking that she dances so well because “it was the woman in her,” uggggggghhhhh.

He wanted her to have a foal and he had found the stallion that was right for her in every way. He had seen him on Swedish television only that week, a horse called the Black, the American champion, winning a great race in Florida. That he should find such a stallion now, after so many years of searching, was still another sign that pointed the way for him.

No one’s breeding decisions in these books make ANY SENSE. You have a very nice dressage mare and after years of searching you’re going to breed her to a racehorse of unknown pedigree that you saw on TV once? A RACEHORSE? WHY.

Speaking of the Black, he is on a vacation at a ranch in Florida and someone turned him out in a field next to a field of mares and we devote an uncomfortably long time to his case of blue balls.

Within his great body was a fierce, insistent, almost intolerable longing for a mate.

Ew.

We get a couple of pages of Alec sort of wishing he didn’t have so many responsibilities, that it could just be him and his horse, and you know what, Alec? WHAT RESPONSIBILITIES? Again, I hate to keep bringing this up, but he has ONE horse. One. That he races only occasionally. Then they take long vacations together. THAT SOUNDS PRETTY GREAT, ALEC. He hasn’t even been back to Hopeful Farm in like a year!

Alec jumps up on the Black bareback to do a bit of a training ride, and ends up following a path into the Everglades because he feels called to. He just jaunts down this trail that he’s never been on before, with no idea where it leads, and he keeps thinking “hm, maybe I should turn back, the swamp is dangerous, nah, I really feel like something is calling me to keep going.”

They seriously pass an alligator corpse being picked clean by carrion birds and at no point does it occur to Alec that something out there killed an alligator and maybe it’s not safe???

The winding dark water was like a slithering snake, but it was shallow enough to ford without swimming. There was no sign of any alligators and it would only take a few seconds to cross.

Oh good as long as there’s no sign of alligators ALEC THEY LIVE UNDERWATER YOU IDIOT.

Anyway, they ride for-fucking-ever along this path, seriously like two chapters of “this is a creepy swamp, oh well, I’ll just keep going” with occasional asides into 1969-era debates about draining the Everglades so they can build housing developments and whether they’ll ever think about the environment. (Spoiler alert: no, they will not, Florida is objectively the worst state, GO AHEAD, COME AT ME.)

They come across Pluminel riding his mare, The Ghost, in a random clearing at the end of this path and they’ve been cantering this whole time, for hours and hours, so they could be easily 20 miles away.

Alec clamped a hand across his horse’s nostrils, stilling the neigh that was about come. “No,” he said softly.

So Pluminel is putting on some kind of freestyle exhibition in the middle of the swamp and I have so many questions. Is this just his daily schooling? Did he time this somehow so that they were showing off right as Alec and the Black arrived? WHY?

The man was part of his horse as she moved at full speed while fixed to one spot.

From context clues, that’s supposed to be a canter pirouette.

And now we’re introduced to a central theme of the rest of the book: Alec cold-cocking the Black.

Alec remained where he was, mindful again of Henry’s final instructions. “Above anything else, keep him away from mares.”

The whole horse-sex subplot of this book is squicky, creepy, and weirdly handled. Walter Farley clearly knows jack shit about horse breeding (both the planning and the physicality, and I’m sorry to say more on that later) but has this weird toxic masculinity over-identification with stallions in general and the Black in particular. Bits of that have come through in other books but in this one it’s full on “I AM MALE AND I MUST FUCK.” That’s it. That’s all we get from the Black in this book.

Pluminel is weird from the get-go.

[His] eyes were inquisitive, as well they should be at finding someone watching his performance. But there was also a coldness in them that foreboded danger. There was no getting away now. [Alec] had to face up to this meeting.

For the next, I dunno, three chapters the following things happen over and over and over and over again:

  • Alec thinks about how he really shouldn’t be here and this dude is kind of creepy and he’s in the middle of nowhere and all signs point to his impending murder.
  • Pluminel shows him some pictures of horses or says something marginally interesting about training horses and Alec decides he’s the smartest and coolest.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The captain was a professional horseman like himself and, according to the blurb on the jacket of the book, was the world’s foremost authority on dressage. Never in his life had Alec failed to get along with someone who loved horses.

Oh, Alec, you haven’t met enough horse people.

(In all seriousness though Alec meets people who love horses but who he does not get along with IN EVERY SINGLE BOOK. Including people who try to murder him!)

I’m going to skip a whole lot of “but maybe I should go home? oooooh, he’s got cool pictures of horses!” because ugh it goes on FOREVER.

They have a gourmet meal together:

There were many kinds of canned meat as well as fresh fruit, and Alec suddenly realized how hungry he was.

I unapologetically love Spam, I would totally be down for a Spam buffet with some fresh fruit on the side, but so much for portraying this guy as some kind of urbane wit with great taste.

Pluminel tells Alec a long story full of foreshadowing and mild hysterics that boils down to this: he is descended from a Native American (“Carib Indian” ugh) who guided the conquistadors through the Everglades in trade for a horse, and a local deity named Kovi has placed a curse on his entire family. Every time they interact with a horse, bad shit happens to them. This is relayed in a “of course this is absolutely true” kind of way and Pluminel sort of kind of has a nervous breakdown while telling Alec the story but despite constantly thinking he should run for the hills, Alec does not do so.

A storm comes, except with just lightning, no rain.

“I’m afraid of lightning because I’ve seen too many animals killed in pasture by it,  and my horse and I have had some terrible experiences in storms.”

Alec implying that he has seen multiple horses struck by lightning in the pasture is BONKERS.

Well, during the storm he runs out to the Black (who is hanging out in a random shed) and it’s not entirely clear what happens but basically the shed is destroyed and Alec has to move the Black into the main barn with the Ghost.

Alec then goes to bed. Like you do, when you’re in a strange crazy man’s house. He has either a dream or a psychic experience in which he feels like something is holding him down in to the bed and smothering him. He wakes up and there’s nothing but he gets up and goes out into the night to find, predictably enough, that Pluminel is trying to breed the Black to the Ghost.

Alec stopped at the barn. The horses were behind it and not far away. At first he was aware only of the beauty of the blending of their bodies, coal-black and silver-gray.

Farley devotes waaaaaaay too much time to describing how the Black keeps trying to mount the Ghost, and how Pluminel doesn’t think the Black is treating her right because he’s trying to bite her withers which is…pretty normal?

Repeatedly [Pluminel] pulled down the shank with all his strength. The Black went back on his haunches in an attempt to escape the pain of the chain cutting viciously into his gums. “Assez! Ca suffit! Enough!” the captain screamed at the stallion while backing him with terrible force. “You are a devil! You do not treat her this way! You go forward when I say you do, not before!”

And Alec…doesn’t really do anything? He just watches? It makes NO SENSE.

He stood in the doorway where he could see the stallion whirling his mare around, dominating her, bringing her to her knees, until, finally, she stood quietly before him.

So much squick in this scene, be glad I am only excerpting it for you.

Finally Alec steps in and Pluminel turns on him and hits him. Alec stays conscious long enough to see the Black run away. He wakes up some indefinite period of time later and Pluminel tells him the Black is gone, so of course Alec sets out into the swamp in the pitch black. It’s actually not as crazy as you might think compared to staying with the lunatic who just tried to kill him.

Alec wanders the swamp for a while (possibly hours?) until he comes across Pluminel, who has come out to help him. Pluminel tells him that they should go to a particular island in the swamp that’s an Indian burial ground because that’s where all the dry stream beds lead so that’s where the Black will go like that makes sense???

They sort of hang out on this island and then shit starts to get really weird.

Basically they both have psychic breaks. Pluminel runs off, and Alec stays on the island and we get page after page after PAGE of stuff like this:

His mind could no longer think in terms of what was real and unreal. There was only quick and final acceptance of the fact that somehow he had bridged two worlds, one of dense matter in which he lived and a psychic world which nobody else knew.

what.

Feelings he could not describe came to him from all directions, flowing, descending, penetrating his very being until they became a single physical sensation, that of a fierce dark wind blowing on him, through him, reaching into his very soul. There was no longer any crimson light, just darkness.

Alec, no.

This goes on and on and on but then Alec snaps out of it to find the Black. He comes across Pluminel, whose face has been caved in and decides that basically Pluminel was murdered by Kovi. Yeah.

Alec emerges from the swamp to find out that everyone has been worried about him and also that no one believes his story about Pluminel and Kovi. Frankly, they gaslight the shit out of Alec, which is unfortunate.

For several days afterward, he had been kept quiet by drugs. He held no bitterness toward Joe Early and the others, knowing it had been for the best.

oh HELL no.

Henry is in on the gaslighting too. There’s a totally perfunctory race scene back in New York – the Black wins, of course – that’s mostly filled with Henry thinking about how Alec has changed in some indefinable way. It’s ok, though, it hasn’t affected his riding.

Alec had made no mistakes in the race today because his instincts, not his mind, governed his riding.

sigh.

Remember my theory about how the whole series makes infinite more sense if you imagine that Alec is suffering from PTSD throughout it? Yeah. Basically that comes roaring back in this book.

Henry is at least trying, though. He takes Alec to the circus because he saw a poster for the Ghost – though he at least half-believes it’ll be fake, or not the same horse, or pretty much anything that proves Alec was lying or making up his experiences.

It’s the same mare, though. They watch her same freestyle performance, complete with weird horrible music.

A strange feeling swept over Henry. He felt that somehow he was descending into a deep void, and he didn’t like it.

Why does anyone go to this show???

Afterwards, they go backstage and Alec buys the Ghost for $30,000, which, adjusted for inflation from 1969 to 2018, is $212,000. Holy shit. Can I just once again remind everyone that less than a year ago they were so broke they had to bring the Black back to racing just to rebuild their barn?

“She’s in foal to the Black, so how could I let her get away from us?”

That’s his reason. One rendezvous with the Black and she’s in foal. And also they need to own all the Black’s offspring, for…reasons? (Except for Bonfire, I guess.)

Aaaaaaand…the end.

Well? Most insane one yet, or do you still think aliens at Azul Island holds top honors? Does it make sense to you that the world’s foremost expert on dressage lures the Black to the swamp to breed his mare, and then goes insane? (I mean, really, couldn’t he just have waited a few months and paid a stud fee like everyone else?)

 

 

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Summer Series: The Black Stallion Challenged

(as a very quick note: I made the executive decision to skip Man O’War, which technically for some reason goes in between The Black Stallion and Flame and this book.)

Image result for the black stallion challenged

Alec and the Black face off against Steve and Flame on the racetrack.

Let’s get one thing out of the way first: this book is really thin on the ground in terms of plot. Basically the entire book is Alec hanging around Hialeah talking and thinking about being a jockey and lecturing Steve and then there’s the race. That’s it. That’s all that happens.

That doesn’t mean the filler stuff isn’t weird and nuts, though, so let’s do this.

You may or may not remember from the last book that the Black headed home from Europe with a stone bruise, and that bruise bothered him according to the dictates of plot through The Black Stallion and Flame. Well, we start this book off with Alec and Henry fussing over that same stone bruise.

“What are you looking for, Henry?” he asked.

“The X-ray plates Doc Palmer took,” the trainer said.

“The latest batch?” Alec asked.

You guys, I am like the poster child for neurotic obsessiveness about my horse’s medical care and fuck if I am ever going to get multiple x-rays of a goddamn stone bruise.

“We’ll just keep giving him long, slow works for the time being. If he continues to go well, as we hope he will, and his condition is as good as it should be, we’ll race. Otherwise, he’ll stay in the barn and we’ll have a nice quiet winter ini sunny Florida. As you said before, that’s not too bad.”

Can we line up a few facts here?

  1. They don’t have any other horses racing. Just the Black.
  2. Two books ago, they were so flat broke they brought the Black back to racing (supposedly temporarily?) to earn enough money to race a barn.
  3. They own a farm in New York. Where they can just turn the horse out to pasture if they really insist on him sitting around doing nothing.

Keeping the Black at the track in Florida, away from the entire rest of their business, is simultaneously the dumbest and most expensive way to spend a winter.

As the veterinarian had said, “I don’t mean the Black is just racing sound, Alec. He’s completely sound.”

???????????????

So while they’re sitting around angsting about the Black, Alec reads some fan mail, and one letter happens to be from a guy named Steve Duncan. Remember him? Well, he writes Alec a letter and then comes to see him at the barn.

And you guys, Steve got weird since the last time we saw him. By weird, I mean he became a huge asshole.

“It takes a long time to become a race-rider,” Alec said.

“Not in my case,” Steve answered.

Seriously, though, a HUGE asshole. He’s pushy and rude and smug to Alec even in a situation when he’s the one asking for help and advice.

Steve laughed. “I don’t think there’s much difference in riders,” he said, “even race-riders. Get on the best horse and you’re the best rider. It’s as simple as that.”

“It isn’t,” Alec said.

Despite all of this, Alec gives him advice: get Flame to a couple of races in the Bahamas, get him a record, and then bring him to the states.

We’re missing a huuuuuuuuge backstory here. Since when did Steve want to race Flame? His last experience with that was a huge trainwreck. How did he get Flame off the island? WHY did he get Flame off the island? What the hell happened to make him such a jerk? What is even going on here?

Anyway, Steve flounces off, and Alec gets on with his life.

Alec washed up and then went to the track kitchen for a cup of coffee. He didn’t linger over it or spend any time with the other men who were there, for he had a lot of work to do before Henry arrived….

After finishing his work in the stall Alec began grooming the Black. No one else could do this job, not even Henry. It made for a long day but there was no alternative.

YOU HAVE ONE HORSE ALEC. How long does mucking one stall and grooming one horse take???

Anyway, the next, like, three chapters are Alec and Henry scoping out other jockeys and other horses and it’s insanely boring. Basically Alec gets shat on by Henry constantly because Henry doesn’t think he’s focusing enough.

I’ll address the elephant in the room now because it’s going to be the theme of the rest of the book. Alec has ridden exactly three horses in races. In chronological order, that’s the Black, Satan, and Black Minx. That’s it. We have a pretty comprehensive view of Alec’s entire life through this series of books, and those are the only three horses he ever rides. But in this book he’s supposed to be this tough, experienced, smart jockey. Everyone looks up to him as a great rider, really talented, really hardworking, who knows his stuff. THREE HORSES. THREE. It makes NO sense. None. It’s a ridiculous attempt by Walter Farley to inject a whole lot of magical thinking into the plot.

Anyway, speaking of magical thinking, the Black is a turf horse now.

“Take the Black over the grass course this morning.”

Sure why not there’s no difference at all between racing surfaces you just go and do that.

More grumping, more railbirding, and then there’s this totally and utterly insane sequence when there’s a race during a huge thunderstorm.

A bolt of lightning split the sky, and Alec was able to distinguish the silks of the riders as their mounts reared in the starting stalls. “I still think the starter ought to hold them off,” Alec said.

Ya think?

A filly in the race is injured, and it makes Alec worry about the Black all over again, and he ruminates on the Black’s injury (which…now seems to have been an abscess? maybe with some foreign debris? it’s wholly unclear.) and somehow that gives him a really terrible idea.

“Come on,” he said, “We ought to watch the operation on [the filly].”

“Why?” [Henry] asked uneasily.

“It’s something we should know about,” Alec said. “Part of our job, like you’re always telling me.”

How is watching leg surgery part of your job? How? Anyway, it freaks Henry right the hell out because he’s having his own medical anxiety.

During the operation, Alec starts quizzing the vets and there’s like a whole crowd and it’s this super weird and chummy boys’ club where they all hang out while the vet pieces back together this poor filly’s leg and it’s just super weird, you guys. My best guess is that Walter Farley did a bunch of research and didn’t want to waste it so he wrote this scene.

There’s a weird bit where Alec goes on TV with a bunch of other jockeys and they answer awkward questions together. There’s a real attempt to paint out the personalities of the other jockeys: one’s a talented kid, one’s in it for the money, one’s a hardened veteran who loves it and will never retire, etc. Honestly it’s all kind of boring. I wish I cared, because it could be a really cool angle, but I just don’t.

Well, except for this bit.

Pete Edge sat alongside Jay, his short legs crossed. He was built square and was strong enough to drag the carcass of a dead horse out of his stall, which Alec had seen him do.

WHAT THE EVERLOVING FUCK?!?!?

Weird interview over, it’s time for Steve and Flame to arrive. And he makes an impression – Alec and Henry both freak out about how much he looks like the Black. But Alec still wants to help Steve out.

“Will you be working the Black tomorrow? I mean…if you are, do you think you could work him with us?”

“Together? The Black and Flame?”

“Yes. You see…what I mean is that it would impress the track officials more than if I worked Flame alone. They’d see the kind of horse he is when he could stay with the Black.”

This is an absolutely terrible idea, so naturally Alec is fine with it.

Predictably, it goes very badly.

He knew too that neither he nor Steve were any longer a part of this race. They were only witnesses to a savage battle that had been going on since the beginning of time. What would have been natural combat between two competing stallions had given way to the strongest instinct of all – flight! They would not stop until they had run themselves into the ground.

Yeah, really badly.

The two stallions staggered as they approached the tunnel beneath the stands, and rocked on the springs of their legs, one tired foot following another. The interplay of muscle was there for all to see but so was the immense fatigue. Every movement appeared torturous.

Alec realizes that Steve intended to provoke the Black and yet still defends him to Henry.

Steve enters Flame into a race and it’s…nothing like the race from The Island Stallion Races. Remember how Steve basically targeted Flame at horses up front? Yeah, no, Flame is perfectly happy to just run along and let Steve guide him around the track. He wins, of course, which makes Steve even more of an insufferable asshole than he was.

Steve shrugged his shoulders and stood up. “I know you mean well, Alec, but you never rode a horse like Flame.”

“I know the kind of horse you’re talking about,” Alec said quietly. “But let’s leave it your way.”

So, the day comes, and the Black and Flame are entered into the same big race. It’s kind of anticlimactic? I dunno. Just kind of boring as far as races go in these books.

The Black wins, of course, in a photo finish by a sliver of a nose. And Alec’s first thought is to go find Steve.

He felt that the activities about to take place in the winner’s circle were not as important as his talking to Steve Duncan as soon as possible. For Steve, the apprentice rider, had been beaten to a greater extent than his horse.

Alec behaves through this whole book as if he and Steve are in some kind of weird abusive relationship. Steve is a complete asshole, and Alec keeps going out of his way to help him and be nice to him.

Steve recovers a little bit at the very end and realizes that Alec’s been trying to be nice with him the whole time. They have a nice little exchange about why Steve wanted the money from racing – he’s trying to buy Azul Island – and then…the book ends.

So, yeah. Just weirdly anticlimactic punctuated by total insanity. One of the more low key Black Stallion books.

What do you think? Was this totally wasted? Did the aliens transplant Steve’s personality? What the hell kind of jockey hauls a horse carcass out of a stall???

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Summer Series: The Black Stallion and Flame

First, an administrative note: since we are so close to the end, I’m going to push through and this summer series will end in mid-fall instead of taking a break and then picking up next summer. I have some ideas for the next series to read but if you have anything you desperately want snarkily recapped, let me know!

Image result for the black stallion and flame

Alec and the Black survive yet another plane crash only to be separated in the Caribbean. The Black finds his way to Azul Island for the ultimate crossover: a showdown with Flame.

First things first, for those keeping track at home, this is Alec and the Black’s second plane crash. This time, they’re on their way back from Europe, where they survived their trip to…wherever…and spent the rest of the time racing and kicking ass.

I mean. It’s pretty obvious from the first page that the plane is going to crash, but we still waste a stupid amount of time checking in with everyone, recapping who exactly Alec and Henry and the Black are, and meeting the doomed other groom in the plane. No worries, though, Henry’s cool as a cucumber.

One didn’t ride fast horses, both on the flat and over jumps as Henry had done, without developing confidence in an ability to get out of jams.

IDK, I’ve ridden fast on the flat and over jumps and would be scared shitless in a plane crash.

We learn that, well:

At home Alec had a secret book in which he kept the musical notes of their special language.

Oh, Alec. Remember my theory about how this whole series makes infinity more sense if you assume Alec is suffering from severe, diagnosed PTSD throughout? Yeah.

It takes three chapters for the plane to hit the ocean, which are mostly filled with Alec kind of panicking and the pilots pretending everything will be a-ok.

He kept his head down, the collar high. He would have liked to talk to Henry or the Black during the last few seconds.

Aw. That’s actually kind of sweet. As is Alec wondering if this will be just like the beginning again, if they’ll have to swim together again.

The plane crashes and sinks much more quickly than anyone anticipated. Alec gets the Black free but then someone knocks him out and drags him away because he’s spending too much time fussing over the horses. (There are a bunch more Arabian mares and yearlings, randomly.)

When he wakes up, Henry reassures him that all the horses made it out of the plane and were swimming away. Not so much the unfortunate groom. He couldn’t swim and did his life jacket wrong and went down with the plane. Shitty pilots, who didn’t double-check their passengers’ life vests.

We switch between Alec and the Black’s perspective for the rest of the book. First, the Black.

As the Black felt the pull of currents on his body, instinct told him not to fight them. He let them take him where they would.

Okay, this has been growing for the last couple of books, but: the whole question of “instincts.” It gets nutty in this book. Way out of control. The Black basically gets through this whole thing on “instinct.” He is from the DESERT. How doe he have instincts about the ocean??? How would any horse know how to read currents and swim to safety and oh yeah. Wait for it.

[The Black] watched the sea about him for strange shapes that could only be dangerous, fierce and horrible because he had little means of fighting back. Suddenly two monstrous eyes stared at him from a few feet away. He kicked out savagely, and the eyes and snout in the big forepart of the creature disappeared below, its tentacles clawing the air. The giant squid skidded away.

YOU READ THAT RIGHT.

A GIANT SQUID.

THE BLACK FOUGHT A GIANT SQUID.

Instinct told him to watch for predators from below, and it keeps guiding him.

He hated the sea and was tempted to swim faster, leaving it behind him forever. He wanted to feel again the earth beneath his hoofs. But he didn’t move his legs faster; instinct told him that the submerged coral lay all about.

FFS.

Instinct also guides the Black – and his herd – to the secret sea entrance to Azul Island, and then through the Fire Swamp weird swamp that blocks the side canyon from the main Blue Valley.

The Black Stallion came to a stop and screamed his high-pitched clarion call, claiming this new land for his very own. The air rang with his challenge, vibrating from wall to wall. And when his call finally died the morning stillness was broken once more. Drinking at the pool was a great herd of horses. From it a tall chestnut stallion stepped forth, his head held high, his eyes defiant as he turned downwind. Like the Black Stallion’s, his head was small with prominent, ever-watchful eyes. Great muscles bulged beneath his sleek, battle-scarred coat. He screamed his answer and it was as savage and wild a call as the Black’s! The valley was no longer peaceful. It had become a walled arena.

OH IT’S ON.

Unfortunately no, it’s not. We shift perspectives to Alec, who is on a boat.

Water was his most important need. With it alone he’d be able to live ten days, maybe longer, because his will to live was very strong.

Yeah no that’s not how that works.

The pilots, Alec, and Henry float around on the rescue boat for a while having various survival adventures. They eat raw fish a couple of times. There’s a shark incident.

They scarcely breathed. It was the biggest dorsal fin any of them had ever seen. The shark must have been thirty or forty feet long from dorsal fin to tail!

I did the research, because I’m always thinking of you, readers.

Jaws was supposed to be 25′ long. That would make him larger than the largest Great White Shark ever recorded. Hammerhead sharks can get up to 20′ pretty regularly. The only shark that would ever get 30 to 40 feet long is the whale shark. Which doesn’t eat people. Or have a dorsal fin. Oh, and the biggest one ever recorded was just over forty feet long. So yeah.

Anyway, they don’t have to rough it for too long, because after a few days, they land at Antago Island! Which is actually an amazing feat on the navigator’s part.

Back to Azul, though.

The Black and Flame are still standing off, waiting, when in comes an interloper.

He was milk-white in color and unlike the other young, ambitious stallions his body was unscathed: there were no cuts, bruises or tooth marks. And yet he was a veteran of more fights than any horse in the herd with the exception of the red stallion he expected one day to dethrone.

Blue Valley is not only big enough for Flame’s herd, it now has a bachelor herd? Seriously, how big is this place???

The cremello stallion and the Black face off and the Black kicks his ass, poor guy.

Having humbled his enemy, the Black Stallion did not intend to kill him. He had no impulse to fling himself upon the young stallion, who was no match for him. It was one thing to kill through necessity, another to kill a beaten foe.

Um…sure.

Back on Antago, Alec is moping around because he is understandably worried about the black.

I’ve got to say he’s alive again over and over again and mean it every time. He’s out there somewhere…if not on this island, then on another. If he was dead, I’d know it. I’d feel it every time my heart beats.

Okay fine that one hit me right in the feels. ❤

Alec distracts himself from worrying about the Black by hanging out with an island veterinarian, who’s treating a number of cows with rabies. Henry tags along too and mostly leaps to grumpy conclusions and tries to tell the Antago islanders how to run things.

“No, not a dog. And I’m afraid this carrier is still very much alive and active – ”

“But he must be destroyed!” Henry interrupted urgently. “He’s capable of infecting human beings as well as animals!”

The police officer said gravely, “We’re well aware of that, sir.”

It’s not a dog that’s infecting the animals…it’s a vampire bat!

Alec and Henry LOSE THEIR SHIT.

“You’re quite an authority on [vampire bats],” Henry said disgustedly.

“Perhaps, for we have to accept such problems here in the tropics.”

Seriously, the police officer and the vet put up with an awful lot for the next two or three chapters, as Alec and Henry tag along to hunt down the vampire bat, because there’s a rumor that there’s a black horse running loose near the cave where he’s hanging out.

A chill swept over Alec. “But his food is blood,” he said in a horrified voice.

“As natural to him as milk or coffee is to us, so who are we to judge?” the veterinarian asked patiently.

I want a book about the Antago Public Health Service because these guys are just awesome.

They all venture into the cave and Alec and Henry screw up the capture of the bat by freaking out. They find the black horse dead – not THE Black – and flush the bat out of the cave, where it disappears. Everyone shrugs and Alec and Henry decide to hire a boat and start searching nearby islands, including Azul Island, which Alec has a strange feeling about.

Alec nodded assent, completely unaware that he had everything in the world to lose, including his very life. For in the cabin of the Night Owl slept the vampire, having chosen that vessel in which to spend the rest of the day.

dun dun DUUUUUUUUNNNNNN

Meanwhile on Azul Island:

This land was new to him and yet he knew the grass was rich in nourishment and that there was something in the very air on which a horse thrived. But true to his desert heritage he denied himself the luxurious, tempting grass for he did not want to become too content or lazy. He had many things to do and could do them best if he was a little hungry and thirsty.

I roll my eyes unto infinity. The Black is such a morally superior asshole sometimes.

Anyway, the Black and Flame circle each other warily and they are about to go at it when…

…Alec, Henry, and the boat owner who has agreed to take them to Azul Island get to the island and spook the vampire bat out of its hiding place! Cue freakouts galore, but the bat leaves the boat and heads toward the island…

…where it heads right for the Black and Flame!

Simultaneously they turned to the herd and the cliffs beyond. It was as if they had forgotten their fighting for the moment in the face of a still greater danger.

The two stallions reared skyward as if trying to reach the vampire bat that flew directly at them! Together they smelled sickness and death in its attack.

TIL that horses can smell rabies?

The vampire glided overhead and the stallions sought to grab it with their teeth and beat it with their forefeet. Missing, they made a lightning turn, streaking with the bat down the valley. Far beyond them raced the herd, the mares screaming as if they would never stop.

They chase the vampire bat up and down the valley for a while but don’t kill it; it zooms off somewhere into the darkness.

The two stallions stood alongside each other quietly, knowing that for a while danger to them and the herd was over. Together they would maintain a vigil throughout the night. They were terribly tired but their breathing was regular once more and came without effort. Soon the vampire would attack again and they must be rested and ready for him.

Sure enough, the vampire bat attacks again in the night and this time he gets Flame. He attaches himself to Flame’s back, and Flame goes down trying to get rid of him.

[The Black] grabbed the vampire by its outstretched wings, shaking it loose from the other stallion, and flung it to the ground. Then he struck hard, using both forefeet, until the enemy was dead.

Whew!

At that precise moment, Alec and Henry and the poor long suffering boat owner are trawling off the coast of Azul Island and about to head away – when a stray gust of wind brings Alec’s scent to the island, and the Black can tell it’s him!

He cleared it with one magnificent leap, never breaking stride, never slowing in his mad rush to join the boy he loved. Only when he reached the outer wall of the island did he come to a stop, a look of indecision in his eyes.

The Black leaves the same way he came, through the hidden sea entrance, and swims out past the coral reef looking for Alec. He can’t find him, and so instead circles the island and comes ashore on the sand spit that’s the only visible part of the island. He’s hanging out there, thinking that he missed the boat (literally) when on their very last circle of the island, Alec spots him!

It’s actually kind of a great moment.

Alec suddenly let out a yell that carried sharp and clear across the water. It sent a chill over Henry or never before had he heard such a yell come from Alec. But then, never before had there been such a reunion as this!

The book pretty much ends there, as they leave Azul Island.

So, the Black is now up to two plane crashes and fights to the death against a bull moose, giant squid, and vampire bat.

Did you remember this book? Did the meeting between the Black and Flame live up to its billing? Are you with Alec in being irrationally terrified of vampire bats ore more like everyone’s favorite island vet who just sees them as part of life? Would you quit life and become a reclusive hermit after surviving your second plane crash, or is that just me?