Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Wild Horses by Kate Pavelle

Title: Wild Horses
Author: Kate Pavelle
Purchase at Dreamspinner
Purchase at All Romance eBooks
Cover Artist: Aaron Anderson
Genre: contemporary, horses
Length: 117k words, 350 pages
Formats: epub, mobi, pdf, print

A Steel City Story

Homeless pickpocket Kai Alwright steals a cell phone and some cash one day only to find the owner texting him, appealing to his better qualities. The request to return the phone stings Kai’s pride; he rides his rusty bicycle all the way to the stables north of the city, where Attila Keleman, the phone’s owner, offers him a new start in the form of a job and a roof over his head. Soon Kai discovers a natural talent for work with horses, and he makes every effort to separate his new existence from his promiscuous past on the streets.

Attila is a reclusive horse trainer whose dressage trophies gather dust, and whose broken heart has been walled off. His undiagnosed Asperger’s makes life around people a challenge, but though he prefers the company of horses, Attila finds Kai’s presence tolerable—even refreshing.

When a client who rides at the stable with her daughter finds out Attila is “still gay,” she tries to run Kai off—and she doesn’t stop there. Mortified, her adult daughter runs away and falls victim to a dark figure from Kai’s past. Kai joins Attila in a rescue mission that tears the civilized masks off their hidden pasts.
In my disjointed way, I’ve come at last to the first of the Steel City stories. Broken Gait (reviewed here) is the continuation of these two characters’ story, but here’s where Kai and Attila start out. Actually where they really start out is in a story of the same name in Dreamspinner’s Animal Magnetism anthology, but since we have 117k words in the novel, there’s certainly more going on.

The story of the waif and the horseman has had other treatments elsewhere, but I did gobble up this one, because of Attila Keleman’s character. He’s controlled, formal, precise in his movements and dealings, and terribly shocked with himself if he does something spontaneous. The blurb mentions undiagnosed Aspergers’, but I wish it didn’t because that wrecks the reader’s opportunity to figure it out for herself. I at least got that treat because I read everything assbackwards, the blurb last of all.

Attila trains horses and is an acclaimed dressage rider, whose pithy text to the thief who stole his iPhone is a distillation of his personality. “Remember, you are better than stooping to such acts of petty thievery.” Short, controlled, high expectations, and the force of personality that makes people and horses tend to do his will. I liked Attila a lot, in part because his expectations are that people and horses will do the right thing.

Kai’s more problematic. He’s twenty-four but reads a lot younger, as if he has very little experience on his own, though that isn’t the case. He’s been on his own more than long enough to have picked up some street smarts and practical abilities. His background is a mining town in Appalachia. Dialect colors his speech infrequently, to the point where he becomes a trifle flat. He has the kind of stiff pride in doing the right thing, and occasionally the stupid but masculine thing, that Attila can respect. Attila also respects Kai’s natural ability with the horses as well as his willingness to shovel horse shit.

Attila’s family remain (start out as) the interesting people they were in the second book, although some of the other secondary characters were not as deftly drawn. One in particular is Evil Harridan #3 and mostly unique for her cougar-to-the-point-of-foulness ways. She could have been shut down fast, but was not, and that she pushed her daughter into desperate acts made sense. Daughter seems to have grown up in a remote cave, and also reads younger than stated age, though she has a couple of good moments.

The arc is mostly the coming together of the two men, overcoming Attila’s asocial ways and Kai’s fears of rejection, to the point where the action adventure sections become less about the mission and more about the relationship. This veered the story into an unsatisfactory path, at least for me, though it mostly ended well.

In the course of stripping away Kai and Attila’s secrets from each other, there was a brief foray into BDSM which at first had me going WTF? And Why now? but the author did resolve this in a way that a non-BDSM reader like me could deal with and believe in. There was in fact a trail of breadcrumbs that was more clear in hindsight.

I like this author’s writing style, and had to remind myself that this is one of her earlier pieces with some rough characterization and plot edges. Kai in particular is uneven and his actions don’t match who he’s supposed to be. He really comes across as about 16 in places, and so I’m glad I read out of order, and encountered him in the second book first. It’s true stable chores never end, but enough with the details of horse poop. Other issues repeat in odd and noticeable ways.

The horse sections are sweet and honest, very affectionate, and I had no idea horses would play like that. The author is a rider and would know.

This book was a step back in time for the author’s writing, and while there is a great deal to like in here, there are also issues that don’t exist in her latest work. That makes Wild Horses not my favorite of her books, but leaves the author as a go-to read. And maybe Attila and Kai get a third story where they can be their mature and confident selves. 3 marbles

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