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Coal Black Horse


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About the Author

Robert Olmstead is the author of eight previous books. Coal Black Horse was the winner of the Heartland Prize for Fiction. The Coldest Night was a finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. Far Bright Star was the winner of the Western Writers of America Spur Award. Olmstead is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an NEA grant and is a professor at Ohio Wesleyan University.


Adult/High School-Although the basic plot is simple, the emotional impact of this book is complex. Robey, 14, is sent to find his father, a Civil War soldier, after his mother has a premonition. At the beginning of the journey, he is given a coal black horse that takes on almost mythic connotations. The early part of the quest is like any other, and the portrayal of the countryside is beguiling and effective. Those whom Robey meets along the way become increasingly threatening. At one point, he is the trapped observer of a brutal rape. He later meets its victim and must confront his sense of guilt. Robey finds his dying father on the battlefield and, in order to survive, he must learn to kill. Certainly this novel invites comparison with Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, but there are more layers of guilt and redemption here. The story can be read on several levels: some teens will enjoy Robey's adventure and close association with the coal black horse, while other readers will be rewarded by a book that raises troubling issues about the nature of war and carnage. The writing is lyrical and descriptive throughout.-Teri Titus, San Mateo County Library, CA Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.

A coming-of-age story whose grim background is the Civil War, this work by Olmstead (River Dog: Stories) follows 14-year-old Robey Childs on his quest to locate his father, a soldier in that war. His mother's premonition sets him on the journey, with no money, no clear direction, and just a worn-out horse to ride. Robey's fortune in coming across an extraordinary horse to accompany him is soon cancelled when the horse is violently taken from him, and he experiences privation and sorrow as he tries to reconnect with the horse and locate his dying father on the battlefield. Sparsely told and graphically depicted, Robey's journey is a small-scale epic that will find a broad audience in public library fans of Civil War historical fiction.-Ann H. Fisher, Radford P.L., VA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Olmstead's new work (after Stay Here with Me) is a convulsive, bloody Civil War tale that tracks a boy's search for his father on the battlefield at Gettysburg. At 14, Robey Childs is on the cusp of manhood when he sets off from the family farm at his mother's behest to find his soldier father and bring him home. A sympathetic farmer loans Robey an uncommonly beautiful and sturdy black horse. On the road, Robey passes carts carrying the maimed and dead, and bands of Native Americans and runaway slaves. A chain of horrific trials begins for Robey when a man dressed as a woman shoots him and steals the horse. He's taken prisoner as a suspected spy, witnesses a girl's rape and is caught up in a carnage-drenched raid. However, he survives the attack, is reunited with the stolen horse and sets out again, days later finding his father on the battlefield, mortally wounded. Robey can't save his father, but he can try to save the raped girl, Rachel, from further violence. His return home and his testimony to what he saw forms a powerful, redemptive narrative. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"A spare, classical quest story . . . With a horse like this, you just want to ride, and with descriptive powers such as he displays here, Olmstead makes the ride an exciting one, with just enough lean prose to keep the mystery of an event both in time and out . . . and just the proper amount of sharp description to keep us bound to whatever piece of earth the particular moment of the story happens to be grounded in. . . . An effective mix of stark classic narrative and uncloying nostalgia."
--San Francisco Chronicle

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