Review: Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer
Lara Prior-Pamer might have ridden the “world’s longest, toughest horse race” alone, but in her new book, Rough Magic, she is kind enough to bring readers with her.
Set against a Mongolian background that becomes a character in itself, Lara’s story breathes a life of its own onto the pages. Each leg of the race comes accompanied by the author’s musings on Genghis Khan’s legacy, particularly the horse messenger trail that she follows during her journey. The addition of historical context allows Lara’s poetic prose to grow into something deeper as we get to know her and the path she gallops along.
While we are aware from early on in the book that Lara will not only finish the race, but win it (despite many of her peers’ obvious doubts), there is still tension within Rough Magic’s plot provided by the rugged conditions of the derby. Lara faces sickness, natural disaster, and fierce competition as the story progresses, but each only serves to make her stronger. In fact, the inter-character conflict between Devan and Lara becomes what drives her to victory as she decides she can’t let a Texan win.
One of the most astonishing elements of Rough Magic is the exhibition of Lara’s self-awareness. Most people can never truly know themselves, but it is obvious from her honest tone and unforgiving analysis of herself throughout the race that Lara is a special case. Although she begins the narration with a sense of stubborn restlessness, Lara soon realizes that what she is doing is very real. Lara’s growth as a character is clear and defined—but still natural—as Rough Magic progresses. When she unwittingly gallops herself into the leaderboard, Lara’s attitude begins to change, and she haltingly admits what readers can tell from the start: She’s there to win. While Lara doesn’t believe the derby changed her, it is quite obvious to anyone reading that she is wrong.
Although Lara’s focus is on what goes through her own mind during the Mongol Derby, she never forgets that the horses are her partners in the journey. Their characterization is diverse and wild, just like the horses themselves. Lara describes her mounts not only in color, but by personality and actions—”7: the slow-canterin’ chestnut”—and name (Brolly, Barbie, Best Horse…), which allows the horses a place of honor in her memory as well as readers’.
Rough Magic is a poignant read for horse lovers and adventure junkies alike. Joining Lara’s journey is an honor, and thanks to reading about her experiences, I’m ready to get back in the saddle again.