The Winter Horses

Written by Philip Kerr
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

Winter, 1941, Ukraine. The Nazis have invaded Russia, leaving death and destruction in their wake. Not only have they massacred indiscriminately, they also have instructions to exterminate all the Przewalski’s horses, the world’s oldest breed. Fourteen-year-old Kalinka, sole survivor of a massacre which killed her entire family, is on the run. She has walked hundreds of miles across the Ukraine steppe and come to what was once a Nature Reserve. Here, she befriends two of the few remaining Przewalski’s horses, a breeding pair. Exhausted after a blizzard, they find themselves by a cottage in the forest where she meets Max, once the Reserve’s warden.

But how can Max help? A Nazi SS company is nearby, and the SS Captain intends to kill the Przewalski’s horses. But the Red Army is advancing. Soon the Germans will have to retreat but not soon enough for Kalinka and the horses’ safety. She, and the horses, must leave. There is only one direction which will give them a chance – south-east, towards the approaching Red Army. Max gives her a compass, what provisions he can spare, and his wolf hound, Taras. Can Kalinka save them against the odds?

This is a thrilling book, and I simply couldn’t put it down. The Przewalski’s horses show their intelligence and cunning; they were not survivors of the Ice Age for nothing. They know exactly how to disappear into a landscape and hide, maybe only feet from their pursuers. This is also a story where, occasionally, history meets myth. As Philip Kerr says in his brief introduction, “Even if there are some parts of this story which aren’t true, they could be, and that is more important…. There are times when history must take second place to legend.” Highly recommended for 11 plus, and adults will enjoy it, too.