Dark Horses by Susan Mihalic is published with Welbeck Publishing and is described as a novel that ‘tackles searing themes of abuse, resilience and female strength and sexuality…set against the tense, high stakes arena of Olympian horse-riding’. This is a book that truly shook me to the core. Centred around a very disturbing theme, that of sexual abuse by a father, it is a very upsetting read so it is important for any prospective reader to know this but, also know that it is an extremely powerful, provocative and deeply affecting tale.
Roan Montgomery is fifteen years old. Her father, Monty, an Olympic medal winner, has ambition for his daughter. Already an accomplished, successful and champion equestrian, Roan is aiming for the stars. Her life is consumed by everything related to her riding but Roan has a secret. Compartmentalising her life allows Roan to smile for the camera and to live a double life because Roan is a victim of sexual abuse…and the abuser is her father.
From the age of six he has groomed her and with horrendous regularity has stolen her innocence again and again and again. An only child, Roan’s mother has long since given up, resorting to pills and alcohol to get her through the day. Roan’s mother is strangely jealous of what she sees as the close bond between father and daughter. She is a broken, self-absorbed and bitter woman who seems to exist emotionally beyond the imploding scene within the family home. Brilliantly depicted, Susan Mihalic really gives the reader a sense of her complete inability to function as a mother, as a human being.
The Montgomery home is toxic. The world sees the perfect father with the perfect daughter. Together they can accomplish anything. Together they are a force to be reckoned with. Roan’s social media accounts are full of positive messages and interactions with her increasing fan numbers. Sponsorship is rolling in as many companies wish to be associated with this bright young star. The reality could not be more different. Roan does not have a mobile phone. Roan does not control her social media accounts. It is all a ruse. It is all fake. It is all the work of a sick and twisted man, her father Monty.
When Roan meets Will Howard she begins to question, really question her life. Her father has used various forms of blackmail over the years, threatening Roan in relation to her horses and how he could twist the public’s perception of her, and him, any which way he wants. But now as she gets older and sees a life for herself beyond her father’s control, Roan looks back over the years and the constant horrors inflicted upon her. Was it normal? Was she to blame? Did she oblige and encourage her father’s perversions?
Roan is competitive. She adores riding and is very passionate about her horses. Her father knows this and, unfortunately for Roan, that is the carrot he uses every single time. He is a controlling perfectionist with a need to be on top, all of the time. He knows Roan is hungry for success and, with his perverted sense of logic, they have an agreement of sorts. Monty is truly a disgusting, manipulative and dominating character. Susan Mihalic spares nothing for the readers yet the will to keep reading is strong as Roan herself gets stronger. We want Roan to survive this horror. We wish for this determined young girl to find herself, to get her life back on track and to be free of the reins that have held her back over the years of her young life.
Dark Horses is unquestionably a distressing read but somehow Susan Mihalic manages to turn it around into a story of resilience and survival. A very emotional read, Dark Horses is an exceptionally written debut, an unforgettable, potent and outstanding novel, an uncompromising and forceful coming-of-age tale of tenacity and survival.
(c) Swirl and Thread
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