The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

My thanks go to Peggy Ann for pointing me in the direction of this book. I really enjoyed it. Again, it’s set in Scotland so it’s not exactly exotic for me, but although Susanna Kearsley is actually Canadian she did very well at getting the correct speech patterns and of course the book is sprinkled with a plethora of Scots words.

Verity Grey is a young, ambitious English archaeologist who is travelling to a dig near Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders. Peter Quinnell is in charge of the dig, he’s getting on in years and the archaelogical world sees him as a bit of a nutter, but Peter is determined to be taken seriously and he has the money to pay for plenty of assistants.

Peter is looking for the lost Ninth Roman Legion. Although there is no evidence of any Roman camp in the area, Peter is sure there is one because young Robbie, a local 8 year old who has the ‘second sight’ has seen a Roman soldier walking around in the fields.

This book did remind me of Mary Stewart and Rosemary Sutcliff, which can’t be bad. It’s a mixture of mystery, history and the supernatural and has romance thrown in for good measure. I could quite happily do without the romance but I understand that for a lot of people the romance will be the most important aspect of the book. I must admit that I think I have a 10 year old boy stuck in me somehow as my reaction to romance is generally yeuch – but it’s probably something to do with me having been married for a very long time indeed!

You might know that I never see anything as being perfect – in fact I don’t think perfection is possible or even desirable, so here are my few gripes.

I could have been doing with a bit more description of scenery, but that goes for nearly every book which I read. The other thing is my bugbear because although the author says that she had the book checked to make sure that there were no mistakes in her Scots I have to report that one did get through the checkers – and it was on page 300. It’s not the first time that I’ve found this mistake in Scots and in fact the word might have been ‘corrected’ by an English editor. That has happened before I know, and I happen to know that the author involved had words with his editor who realised that he had been wrong and it was put back to the original version. I am of course speaking about – amn’t I, because there are not only Scots words but also Scots grammar and there is just no way that a Scottish lad from Eyemouth would be saying – ‘I’m a finds assistant, aren’t I, Miss Grey?’ Of course he should have said amn’t I.

What’s she making a fuss about? I hear you say. But it is important that we don’t lose the correct way to speak Scots and it is in danger of being wiped out because from time to time Scottish actors do occasionally say aren’t I on TV, obviously because they aren’t confident enough to say to the director that it’s wrong. They should because it sounds awful in a Scots accent, but more than that we will get Scottish youngsters speaking like that because someone on the telly did, and I happen to think that the Scots language is every bit as important as the Gaelic language, so we have to be vigilant otherwise it will disappear and we will be left with just an accent rather than a dialect and language.

As my m-i-l grew up in Eyemouth I know for sure that it isn’t some kind of weird anomaly that they speak in an English way there. She definitely said amn’t I despite the fact that she was a daughter of the rectory, meaning that her father was the minister of the Scottish Episcopal Church there, and they were always seen as being a bit posh/snooty/English!

Of course the same goes for all languages, they are mobile to an extent but it can be taken too far. Another of my pet hates is the English word fulsome – well I don’t hate the word but I hate the fact that people use it completely wrongly. We’re always hearing people on TV speaking about ‘fulsome praise’ – when they mean that someone or something has been praised a lot. However the word fulsome means – cloying, excessive, disgusting by excess, which is a very different meaning altogether. Honestly, look it up if you don’t believe me. Call me Mrs Pedantic if you like, I don’t mind!

Anyway that’s my rant over, to get back to the book, I’ll be looking for more books by Susanna Kearsley in the future and if you are doing a Canadian reading challenge, which I’m not, remember that she is a Canadian author.

15 thoughts on “The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley

  1. Glad you liked it! I heard an interview with her by a Canadian interviewer and she told him that she tried really hard to get the language correct and when the book was printed some of the folks in eyemouth she had worked with let her know about a few mistakes and it was corrected in the recent reprint.. Don’t know if that was one of them. I looked in my ebook and it says aren’t. Here is a link to the interview on her website. It’s the link on the top left with Mike Nabuurs.

  2. I have this book from the library on Peggy Ann’s recommendation. Now that you both recommend it, it moves to the top of the stack. I think I’ll like the archeological parts.

    • Joan,
      I hope you do enjoy it, at least it’s from the library if it turns out it isn’t your sort of thing. Where I grew up is just north of the Roman Empire, they couldn’t tackle Dumbartonians obviously, so I’ve always been interested in Roman archaelology despite the fact there was no possibility of me digging up any artefacts. If the Romans had been in our garden at some point I would have been out there digging all the time!

  3. Hi, Katrina,
    Do I ever know what you mean about actors and other people getting a dialect or local way of speaking wrong! I must confess it is a pet peeve of mine, and because my family lived in the Boston area for generations, my antagonism about people who abuse the way of speaking is huge.

    Actors abuse it in movies regularly. It would be so much better, in my opinion, if they spoke in their own way rather than attempt to fake an accent and dialect they simply cannot master.

    But do I ever swoon when an actor who so obviously is a native is cast for a role in a Boston or New England production! Oh, what heavenly music to my ears!

    In sympathy,

    • Judith,
      Yes I agree, it would be better if people didn’t use fake accents, they always seem to think they have got it spot on too, but rarely manage to get close to it. Emma Thompson can do a very good Scottish accent but her mother is Scottish so that obviously helps a lot. I think that in the UK actors tend to use a sort of New York accent as a ‘stock’ US accent, as if that is the only one in existence. I wish I could identify particular accents as I would love to know the way various people speak, then I could ‘hear’ the correct accent when I read it! I’m definitely sketchy on Bostonian (?) and I really want to know that one. There must be an app!

    • Judith, I have a feeling you like Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. My actor is Joe Pesci from “My Cousin Vinny” I’m from NYC, have lived 12 different places in 40 years, and as soon as I open my mouth people say “NYC”? I’m not THAT bad!

      • Lorraine,
        It seems that an NYC accent must be as distinctive as a Glasgow accent! I’ve lived on the east side of Scotland for over 30 years but I still have my west coast accent, thankfully.

    • Oh, Judith, I feel exactly the way you do! My husband and I lived in New England for 35 years. There are so many accents in that area. Almost none of them sound like the Kennedys! I, too, cringe when I hear an actor try and not succeed. It sounds like they’re talking in some kind of cartoon language and ruins the show for me. But when they nail it, I’m very, very impressed.

      • Joan,
        I had forgotten that the Kennedys were from the Boston area, that was a very strange accent, to my ears anyway. Do you speak like a Kennedy, Joan?

        • I just noticed your comment, Katrina. No, I do not speak like a Kennedy, although I can do a fair imitation. I don’t think New England accents are the kind you casually pick up, like you do southern accents. I lived in Virginia for a month or so when I was a teenager and came back sounding like way below the Mason-Dixon Line!

          • Joan,
            Some accents are so easy to pick up – even when you don’t want to. I’m sure I was starting to say the ‘a’ sound like a southern English person does after living there for two years. It was definitely time to move back home!

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