Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dark Horse

Dark HorseDark Horse is Kate Sherwood’s first book and I am still ruminating on the strong feelings it masterfully drew from within me. Dan's story is painful, soul wrenching, and compelling from the very beginning to the absolute end. If you enjoy a moving story, this book is for you. And it’s a book you can truly judge by its cover because it is perfectly fitting. While horses are an intrinsic part of the story, the symbolism of the main character as a dark horse himself is heavily woven especially in the beginning during his darkest moments.

Dan is a self-taught horse trainer. While he is well known in the horse eventing community, he has been living a quiet life for a little over a year since his lover was in a devastating accident. Though Justin lies in a coma, Dan stays hopeful that he will wake up someday and remains faithful. He continues working with the horses on Justin’s family farm and living in a constant state of waiting. But when Justin’s parents make the decision to stop holding onto the past, they make plans to sell their farm and place a DNR order on Justin. The decision throws Dan off-balance and when he loses Justin, he just doesn’t know how to deal. The funeral, and the days leading up to it, is heart-breaking as the author paints such a realistic portrait of Dan’s grief. While reading the book, it is often like you are sitting beside Dan and this was particularly true during the funeral scene. Several issues were used in the reading of this first part of the book.

Dan gets his chance for a fresh start when a family comes to purchase the horses, and he finds himself instantly drawn to the two men. The purchase hinges on Dan’s willingness to work for the buyers at their Californian estate. The author breaks the book into two distinct parts - Part Two beginning with his move to California – and while I normally cringe at this type of break (you know, why not just write two books?), it worked for Sherwood. There was an obvious before and after Justin in Dan’s life which was even more profound by the division.

Dan heads out to California and experiences the reality of a cross-country move. He struggles with finding his fit in this new place, wanting to move on but scared to let go. Evan and Jeff ask Dan to try a relationship that would involve all three and, despite his reluctance, he allows himself to follow his heart. While it certainly isn’t easy, these three men genuinely like each other. I appreciated that the relationship does not evolve sexually until later on, and rather they explore their connection to one another and so clearly work at building a relationship despite none of them knowing what they’re doing in this type of relationship.

This book does not have a quick happily-ever-after, but rather a slow progression of steps in building their relationship. At times the relationship struggles were frustrating – moments where I thought Dan was too sensitive and disagreements were blown out of proportion. The complexities of a ménage relationship were certainly not glossed over as they often are in other books. And Dan joining a pre-existing relationship added its own set of trouble when Evan and Jeff would discuss Dan and make decisions without including him – I could see how Dan continued to feel like the outsider. Since I liked all three men, I hated that Dan found it so easy to be with Jeff but had a hard time with Evan. But then the connections were different in each pairing also and the author carefully maintained the character’s true personalities.

Dark Horse is an incredibly complex story that kept me unsure if I was actually going to get a happily-ever-after at all, never really certain what was going to happen next. I liked that the book focused on their relationship and not just sex (which is an easy selling point so kudos to Sherwood for going beyond) which actually didn’t happen until late in the book. Sexual tension plays a large role in the book and it was well executed, and perfectly developed in a continual build. The explicit sex scenes, including a three-way, were not only hot but essential to the story’s development.

Out of the DarknessI recommend this book because it truly is a beautiful story. Kate Sherwood is an author to keep watching, but I have to say the story could’ve been tightened up with some unnecessary scenes meeting the delete button. There were times when the story stalled out, got a bit slow, but I liked it overall and I loved Dan. So I’m going against my normal rating criteria and optimistically giving Dark Horse 5 chocolate-dipped strawberries simply based on my own feelings about the story.

QUICK POST NOTE: It’s followed up by a sequel, Out of the Darkness, which I've already read and found satisfying. It helped soothe all my worries about Dan's happily-ever-after. Be sure to read that next.
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