... a gripping and unflinching story of a teenage girl’s determined and courageous fight to reclaim her life from the man who controls her ... Every interaction is thick with tension and nuance, and in evocative, propulsive prose, Mihalic shows readers exactly what psychological control and abuse look like, and how drastically trauma can warp one’s sense of self. Mont is calculating and cruel, and he wields power over Roan masterfully, gaslighting and manipulating her until every punishment feels earned, deserved and even craved ... I could write for days about Mihalic’s expert portrayal of Mont, but the true star of Dark Horses is Roan. She is talented and successful, and it would be so easy for her story to feel stereotypical. But her narrative is complicated and sticky, shocking and disturbing, yet full of respect for her and all she has endured ... a difficult, painful novel to read, but it is not one that you should ignore if you can stomach it. It is a much-needed addition to the world of stories about victims escaping their abusers and it is as full of power and determination as it is pain. With gorgeous descriptions of the bonds between animals and humans and searing observations on abuse, courage and resilience, this powerhouse of a novel will sweep you off your feet and leave you raw.
This skillful debut takes a righteous spot on the shelf next to recent novels like Kate Elizabeth Russell’s My Dark Vanessa (2020), unpacking childhood sexual abuse with complicated and nuanced lenses ... Roan’s first-person voice is wise and interesting, clear and observant....Mihalic is an expert in creating narrative drive; the urge to keep reading is powerful. Readers will encounter descriptions of sexual abuse and should be forewarned, yet Mihalic guides readers in looking deeper and considering what might make a victim misunderstand her own 'consensual' participation. A provoking and needed book.
A complex portrait of sexual abuse set in the world of pre-Olympic equestrian competition ... Debut novelist Mihalic takes us inside a life of extreme privilege, equestrian “eventing”—a kind of horse-based triathlon—and sexual predation with Roan Montgomery, a feisty 15-year-old Olympian-to-be who confides her story in a cleareyed narration ... To the author’s credit, this is no poor-little-rich-girl story. Rather, Mihalic complicates the narrative at every turn, creating a disturbing and flinty picture of what abuse, psychological control, and rage look like. The emotions Roan feels toward her father are multilayered and confusing, speaking to the gnarled nature of their relationship ... A searing examination of love and lust, power and control, as the narrator’s rising sense of self yearns to take the reins.
Mihalic’s taut, bracing debut takes a daringly understated approach to its exploration of sexual abuse ... Mihalic has a firm grasp of the intricacies of competitive riding, and she grounds her narrative in a sense of the day by day, or even minute by minute, decisions involved in negotiating its dangers, which gives a reader an understanding of why Roan might hope the danger her father presents can also be contained and navigated. As the dread the novel evokes grows increasingly overwhelming, the reader is torn between that perspective and the knowledge that, from an objective point of view, Roan is dealing with a monster. The novel takes every narrative hurdle as nimbly and astonishingly capably as Roan does the courses she rides. This is a powerhouse.