Bethell, Zillah: A Whisper of Horses.
A Whisper of Horses
Piccadilly, 2016, pp368, 9.99 [pounds sterling]
978 1 8481 2534 6
Set in a dystopian future, the novel is narrated by Serendipity Goudge, citizen of Lahn Dan. Following her mother's death, Serendipity becomes apprenticed to Professor Nimbus, a storyteller. Life in the capital is closely regulated; its inhabitants belong to one of three classes: the Aus, beautiful and immortal, the Cus who oversee the running of daily life and the Pbs who toil on their behalf; the symbolism of the elements indicating their status. Serendipity's London retains many landmarks readers will recognise, although their function has been changed: Buckingham Palace is a detention centre and the National Gallery houses a market. It is here that Serendipity sees the portrait of Whistlejacket, another symbol, this time of freedom. A map Serendipity finds among her mother's possessions indicates that horses still exist beyond London. When the Ministry decrees that all orphans must be housed in state-run homes, Serendipity decides to escape through the Em Twenty-Five Wall and search for the horses, accompanied by Professor Nimbus. Their initial escape bid fails and they are imprisoned in Buckingham Palace, where they meet Tab, a smuggler boy and his dog Mouse. Tab leads them through a secret passage out of the prison and the rest of the novel follows the journey of Serendipity and Tab to Whales, while Professor Nimbus works with the resistance in London.
Told that no life exists outside London, Serendipity and Tab find that they have been told lies--there are communities beyond the Em Twenty-Five Wall. However, they are pursued by the Minister's men. Serendipity discovers that the Minister is in fact her father. She eludes him and with Tab reaches Whales, where she and Tab find a home and a truer way of life.
In a coda set some years later, Professor Nimbus arrives at the village, a dying man. But he brings news that London has changed and the regime of repression has been overthrown. Finally, Serendipity encounters the horses, symbolising hope for the future. The optimism of Serendipity's narrative counterbalances the dystopian theme and readers will enjoy her depiction of the future world.