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Sarah Barnes
Author
She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe, Book One
Set more than 6,ooo years ago, She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe (Book One) begins the story of Naya, the first person to ride a horse. Daughter of a clan chief, bolder than the other girls but shunned by the boys because of her unusual appearance, Naya wanders alone through the vast grasslands where her people herd cattle and hunt wild horses for their meat. But Naya dreams of creating a different kind of relationship with the magnificent creatures. One day, she discovers a filly with a chestnut coat as uncommon as her own head of red hair. With time running out before she is called to assume the responsibilities of adulthood, Naya embarks on a quest to gallop with the filly across the boundless steppe. Unwittingly, she sets in motion forces and events that will change forever the future of horses and humans alike.
Plot/Idea: 9 out of 10
Originality: 9 out of 10
Prose: 9 out of 10
Character/Execution: 9 out of 10
Overall: 9.00 out of 10

Assessment:

Plot: She Who Rides Horses: A Saga of the Ancient Steppe is a rich work of historical fiction that imagines the story of the first individual who ever came to tame and ride a wild horse.

Prose: Barnes's prose is smooth, evocative, and pleasingly descriptive. The author brilliantly captures the lives of those in an ancient world with vivid and authentic detail. 

Originality: In concept and execution, this is a highly unique work of historical fiction that will deeply gratify readers.

Character/Execution: Naya is a captivating and fascinating character and the author's approach to the topic of the human-animal bond is thoughtful, philosophical, and resonant.

Date Submitted: May 05, 2022

Reviews
In the inspiring first installment of her A Saga of the Ancient Steppe series, historian Barnes invests welcome warmth and heart into a dramatic imagining of the story of the first horse ever tamed, some 6,000 years ago on the Pontic-Caspian Steppe. Fourteen year old Naya, the daughter of her tribe’s chief, is shunned for her unusual flaming red hair. With her wandering spirit and love of animals, the tomboy sees the wild horses of the steppe as more than a source of meat and hides. When she bonds with a local herd, she forges an especially strong relationship with a copper red filly she names Réhda, which means “little red one.”

With an audacious yearning to connect to Réhda, Naya declares “I wish…to ride upon your back.” Immediately, the two enter a mystical communion that her intuitive grandmother, Awija, calls a soul journey. “The two of you are connected now. Your destinies are entwined,” Awija says. Barnes skillfully creates an atmosphere of rugged life among the steppes, as Naya and her tribe hunt, heal, and navigate a nomadic life. Naya’s father believes taming the horses will provide a ready source of meat, and he encourages her to bond with the herd–leading them to follow her when the tribe moves to new grazing lands. But Naya stays tethered to her goal of one day riding the horses, and after a tragic accident threatens her life, she meets a young man, Aytal, who believes in her quest.

In simple, clear prose Barnes brings life to a cast of smart, fully realized characters who possess the insight to do what no one else has done. Barnes also, most memorably, captures the beauty and gentleness of the horses. Rich descriptions of the era and the determination of the young adult characters, along with prudent encouragement of the adults, make this adventure a must-read for lovers of horses and historical fiction.

Takeaway: Horse lovers will relish this historical adventure about a young woman who becomes the first person to ride a horse.

Great for fans of: Elizabeth George Speare’s The Sign of the Beaver, Melody Huttinger’s Arrow the Sky Horse.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A-
Marketing copy: A

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