When the young slave-boy Shasta is about to be sold to another merchant, he meets a talking horse named Bree and together they decide to go on the run. After joining forces with another pair planning an escape, they learn of a deadly plot by the prince of Calor to attack Narnia when Queen Susan refuses to marry him.
What’s most exciting about The Horse and His Boy is it’s expansion of the world in which Narnia resides. In the first two books (by chronological order), Narnia is a full and magical land which stands on its own, but here the reader learns that Narnia is but a small northern country in a much larger world. In contrast to the Golden Age of Narnia, during the reign of the Pevensies, a young boy is one of many cruelly beaten only a country away.
With most of the book surrounding Shasta and Bree’s journey, the landscape imagery is palpably captivating. I have a distinct picture of their travels along the ocean, entering the great island city of Tashban, sleeping under the tombs of Atuan, and crossing the desert at night. And when Shasta encounters characters from previous books, including Edmund, Susan, Lucy, and Tumnus, my heart swells with pride at their success.
I’m knocking this one down a star-level, though, because the magic of the world and the story is tainted by the portrayal of the Calormen. They are dark-skinned, own slaves, wear turbans, and believe in forced marriages. In comparison to Narnia, they carry curved swords instead of straight ones, and Narnians view them as overly focused on trade that they are greedy, and that their great empire only seeks to gobble up the little lands of the free folk. There are just a few too many racist images from our own world to be overlooked entirely.
Recommended as part of the Narnia universe, but with a grain of salt.
Your Majesty would have a perfect right to strike off his head,” said Peridan. “Such an assault as he made puts him on a level with assassins.”
“It is very true,” said Edmund. “But even a traitor may mend. I have known one that did.” And he looked very thoughtful.