Dark Horse

Dark Horse

4.1 7
by Marcus Sedgwick

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SIG IS A boy in a coastal tribe, the Storn, long ago in a Northern land. On the day of the wolf hunt, the life of the tribe changes forever, for Sig rescues a small girl, more like the wolves who shelter her than a human. Sig’s family adopts her and names her Mouse, and he becomes a loyal brother to this girl with mysterious powers and a secret past. The… See more details below


SIG IS A boy in a coastal tribe, the Storn, long ago in a Northern land. On the day of the wolf hunt, the life of the tribe changes forever, for Sig rescues a small girl, more like the wolves who shelter her than a human. Sig’s family adopts her and names her Mouse, and he becomes a loyal brother to this girl with mysterious powers and a secret past. The shocking discovery of Mouse’s true identity brings to life a terrifying legend and leads to war, betrayal, and Sig’s coming of age as he finds the wit and courage to save his tribe.

“Like an ancient cave painting come to life, Sedgwick’s tale of dark enchantment depicts a primitive tribe in a north country.”—Publishers Weekly, Starred

“Will . . . find a solid readership among historical fiction fans, thanks to the fast pace, hint of magic, and satisfyingly enigmatic conclusion.”—Booklist

“Employing a lean narrative voice and writing in short chapters that encourage page turning, Sedgwick draws readers along . . . rich, involving, and vivifying.”—School Librabry Journal, Starred

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like an ancient cave painting come to life, Sedgwick's (Floodland) tale of dark enchantment depicts primitive tribe in a north country, reminiscent of Norse sagas. Third-person narration alternates with the haunting first-person account of Sigurd Olafsson, as he remembers discovering Mouse, a girl who becomes his foster sister, living in a cave with wolves. Sigurd's tribe, the Storn, is a coastal community that resides in stone brochs and survives by fishing and sporadic trade with seafarers. The tribe slowly accepts the strange girl (gifted with powers that enable her to fly with crows and to "use animals... as a channel through which she could feel and see"), and Mouse forges a strong bond with Sig. After a white-haired magician with black palms washes ashore, Mouse and Sig discover his magic box. Mouse unwittingly unleashes its power, leading to the arrival of The Dark Horse, a fierce southern nomadic tribe searching for their long-lost Princess Kara. At just 16, Sig must lead his tribe in a violent confrontation while Mouse discovers her true destiny. To use Sig's metaphor, with the unstoppable power of a boulder that "moves slowly at first, as if unsure of what it will do, but then it speeds up, until it hurtles headlong into the future," the hero and Mouse are forever changed , as they come of age in this eerie, mythic novel. Delicate, atmospheric drawings open each chapter. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)
Sixteen-year-old Sigurd's life is changed forever when he becomes the leader of his people, the Storm. Shortly after his elevation to the position of Lawspeaker, his primitive village, already weakened from a long famine, is attacked by warriors called the Dark Horse, who ride from the North. The unforeseen betrayal of Sigurd and his community by his adopted sister, Mouse, whom his family had found living with a pack of wolves, provides an unexpected plot twist that raises this novel above others in this genre. Sigurd has developed a protective love for his mysterious younger sister and sought to shield her from the invaders. When the village is razed by the warriors, the remaining villagers are imprisoned and Mouse is revealed to be the daughter of the invading pack leader. Ultimately Sigurd and the remnants of his group are able to escape captivity, overpower the invaders, and rebuild their village. The fate of Mouse is left open to interpretation. Sigurd and Mouse are fully developed, whereas some other characters are not quite as complete but instead are recognizable stereotypes. The story is told in alternating chapters by an omniscient narrator and Sigurd. The different viewpoints serve to make the story engrossing and quick paced but still allow the reader to understand Sigurd's growth from awkward teenager to the leader of his people. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2003, Wendy Lamb Books/Random House, 160p,
— Rosemary Moran
School Library Journal
Gr 6-10-When a strange child who can communicate with animals is adopted by Sigurd's family, a chain of events is set in motion that involves bloodshed and betrayal for the entire tribe. A dark, gripping mystery, eloquently told. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In spare, powerful prose, set in northern Atlantic lands, Sedgwick tells a coming-of-age story steeped in mystery and danger. Fifteen-year-old Sigurd lives with his tribe, the Storn, in an isolated coastal village. Four years earlier, an expedition hunting wolves had brought back a girl known as Mouse, apparently raised by wolves, and now adopted into Sig’s family. Despite Mouse’s reticence and three years difference in age, the two are close friends. Mouse remains an outsider to other villagers, in part because of her magical power to cast herself into the minds of animals. One day when the two are searching for sea cabbage to make up for the poor fishing that has plagued the village for years, they find a mysterious box. Soon a vicious stranger appears looking for the box, after which the village’s relatively tranquility disappears with the coming of the Dark Horse, a host of warlike horsemen. The rush of events and onslaught of danger push Sig into manhood before his time as he takes on leadership of the Storn. At the same time, the Dark Horse prompts memories in Mouse that lead to a change of character and acts of betrayal that are inadequately foreshadowed and feel abrupt. Sig’s first-person narrative, which include flashbacks that give background, alternate with short chapters of present-day action, with each chapter headed by a small, boxed illustration. Using short, strong words appropriate to the Nordic setting, Sedgwick (Witch Hill, not reviewed, etc.) crafts an effective tale that, despite the unconvincing transformation of Mouse, will draw readers in and keep them entranced. (Fiction. 10-14)

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Product Details

Random House Children's Books
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File size:
5 MB
Age Range:
10 Years

Read an Excerpt


It was Mouse who found the box. She was trotting along the tide line, running with Sigurd. Looking for sea cabbage washed up in the black sand after last night's storm, because the fishing had been bad again. They were half a day from home.

Flicking the hair from her eyes, Mouse tilted her head to one side.


Sigurd came over to where Mouse stood. He towered above her.

"What is it, Mouse?"


She nodded at the box. It was different. It didn't belong here. All around them was the coast--rocky outcrops, with the low hills behind--and the sea, the sea, the sea in front of them. Everything was the wildness of Storn. And amongst all this wildness lay the box. A small wooden box--a couple of hands wide but quite slender. There was no metal visible--no hinges or corner braces. No lock. It was a plain wooden box, but somehow it was very beautiful. It was made of a deep and rich red wood, black in places. It had a shine that reflected the light from the sky back onto Mouse's small, round face.

It was different. It was from somewhere else.

Mouse felt her head swim a little. She staggered a few paces away from the box.

"Mouse?" Sigurd had noticed. "Anything?"

Sigurd was used to spotting the signs, better than anyone else at knowing when Mouse might "see" something. But she put her hand on Sigurd's arm.

"No," she said. "No, it's gone now."

Mouse drew in a deep, calming breath. They turned their attention back to the box, but Mouse kept her distance. "What do you think it is?"

Sigurd said nothing. He knelt down to touch it, but gently, as if it were a cornered animal.

"It's dry," he said. "It's . . . warm."

"What is it?" Mouse asked again.

"Shall I open it?"

Mouse shook her head.

"Let's take it back."

Mouse hesitated.

"It's getting late," he reasoned.

"All right," she said.

They started back to the village, Sigurd carrying the box, Mouse with a net half full of cabbage.

Neither of them had noticed the man lying still amongst the rocks, just twenty paces from where they had found the box. His skin and hair were white, whiter even than Sigurd's, but the palms of his hands were black.


I remember better than anyone.

I remember better than anyone the day we found Mouse.

It was unusual that we should have been up in the hills in the first place. There were about thirty of us, I think. A huge war party--going to wage war on . . . wolves.

Father said it was stupid. Just because a lone wolf had attacked Snorri as he came home over the hills was no reason to risk our lives. That's what my father said, though he didn't say it to Horn's face.

As I remember, it was only a couple of summers after Horn had beaten Father for the title of Lawspeaker of the tribe. Father was licking his wounds then, I suppose. He swore that one day he'd tell Horn to his face what he thought of him, but not then.

That probably had something to do with it. The fight, I mean. Why we were up in the hills, hunting wolves. That was stupid, too. Wolves live in woods, and there were no trees up there. Horn was showing us all that he was our leader, that we had to do whatever he told us.

I was the only child there, and I was a child then. It was my eleventh or twelfth summer; I can't remember. I was a part of the games Horn and Father played.

"Well, Sigurd," Father said to me, "if that fool is going to take us on a wild wolf chase, we may as well show him what kind of family we are!"

What this meant was that he'd take the opportunity to show me, his son, off to everyone. Because Horn, the Lawspeaker, had no son, only a daughter, Sif. There was no one to succeed him as Lawspeaker, and so there would have to be a fight for the job, just as there had been between him and Olaf, my father.

It was late in the day when we reached the higher slopes of the hills. A couple of the hounds had picked up the scent of something hours ago, and we'd been following the trail ever since. Once or twice they'd lost the scent and we'd hung around while Hemm, a small, clever man who was our best dog handler, made wide circles around us with his hound. Eventually the dog would find a scent and we'd be off again, always higher up into the hills.

"If that's still the scent of the wolves," muttered Father, loud enough for only me to hear, "I'll wash Horn's feet before bedtime."

On we went, higher and higher, until suddenly we came to the top of a slope, and there in front of us, no more than a spear's throw away, were the small, dark entrances to a series of caves. The dogs were going crazy, pulling toward them, and suddenly the mood changed. I felt a touch of fear stroke me.

There was a chill in the air. We were high above the sea, directly above the village, though you couldn't see it from there. There really were wolves here, and they had chosen somewhere special to live. I had never heard of wolves living in caves. Forests are their usual home. And I have never heard of another case since. We should have realized then that it was an omen.

It hadn't seemed real until that moment, but now Horn's ridiculous wolf chase was actually happening. It had actually come to something. We avoided one another's gaze; no one looked at Horn.

But he stepped forward, undaunted. He wasn't about to turn around and go home.

"This is what we've come for," he said quietly.

"So what do we do?"

"You want us to go in there?"

"They'll rip us to pieces before we even see them. . . ."

Horn held up his hand.

"Let's lighten their darkness. Let's get them out here." He pointed at Grinling. "Grinling! Make fire."

So then we understood what he meant to do.

From the Hardcover edition.

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