Taking as her setting 3,500 BC Eurasia (in present-day Kazakhstan), Luanne Armstrong weaves a story of a young woman who befriends and tames the wild horses of the steppes. Although fictional, Armstrong’s tale is based on fact; it was during this time that the Botai people first domesticated horses in the region.
As the novel opens, Morven is living with her mother, sisters, and their extended clan. The strong-willed girl rejects traditional women’s duties in favour of hunting and spending time in the wilderness, where she learns to tame and ride a young horse.
When a long drought forces Morven’s people to move in search of food and water, they encounter other clans, and the group’s communal culture clashes with ideas of ownership. Morven and her tamed horses become central to the conflict, so she flees, barely surviving a bitterly cold winter.
With its ancient setting, mystical overtones, and heroic theme, the novel verges on the folkloric. However, Armstrong’s textured prose paints a vivid, realistic picture of Morven’s outer and inner worlds. It is easy to imagine the vast grasslands and the warmth of the communal fire; the writing is especially effective in describing Morven’s interactions with animals. The action unfolds slowly, but this pace allows the tension to build to a satisfying climax in a dramatic battle with the rival Kazaan clan.
In Armstrong’s richly descriptive story, Morven grows from a young, spirited girl to a respected shaman, enduring loss, hostility, isolation, and near starvation in her quest to understand her place within her clan.