In the 18th century, 14-year-old Thomas Rose has failed at school and has no love for his father’s profession, either. But when he finds and befriends a French circus performer huddled in a ditch at the edge of Horkstow village, Thomas’s life begins to fill with purpose. The circus has disbanded, but pretty Hélène is determined to find her performance partner, a beautiful horse named Belladonna, who was sold to a family living in Thomas’ village. In helping Hélène find Belladonna, Thomas comes to work for Mr. George Stubbs, called the butcher of Horkstow because he dissects horses and makes anatomical drawings based on his work. Thomas discovers that he is a fair artist while working for Mr. Stubbs. Meanwhile, Hélène is working for the family who owns Belladonna, offering riding lessons to their young son in exchange for room and board. Thomas is satisfied with their new circumstances, but when Hélène takes Belladonna away from Horkstow, Thomas feels as if he’s lost a piece of himself.
While I enjoyed some of the minor characters in the story, little Nan and Mr. Stubbs in particular, neither of the two main characters captured my interest. Even Thomas’ misunderstood dyslexia, Hélène’s storytelling, and the author’s solid writing were not enough to spark the dull plot.