Charlotte Wallace is orphaned and alone until a sympathetic stable boy takes her under his wing and teaches her everything about thoroughbred racing. In the process, the two discover in each other a love destined to be thwarted at every turn…
Robert Devington has tried everything to persuade Charlotte’s uncle to allow them to marry. Then an ill-fated friendship, a scandal in the making, and one desperate act of folly rob them of their love and his livelihood…
Dead set on retribution, all Robert’s hopes are hanging on one small horse—his only chance to reclaim his land, his dignity, and his love, against all odds…
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As a child, my love for books took root when I discovered Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series. I bought all the books that were in print at that time, reading some of them more than once. They transported me to a world about which I knew very little, and their exciting tales thrilled me.
Years later as an adult, I discovered the works of Jane Austen and the many Austen-themed novels that are now so prevalent. Again, I was transported to another unfamiliar world, albeit a more romantic one than that of thoroughbred racing (or so I thought).
With Emery Lee’s The Highest Stakes, I find my two beloved genres almost perfectly mixed. Set in the mid-18th century (slightly predating Austen), Stakes tells of Charlotte Wallace and Robert Devington, two soul mates bound by their love of horses and each other. Like Austen’s works, they abide in a genteel society, encumbered by rules and norms that they themselves frequently would rather eschew.
Along with friends, kin and enemies, Charlotte and Robert embark on an epic journey spanning several years and more than one continent. Horseracing and breeding comprise much of the story, as does English military history. As such, there are several exciting races, duels and accounts of risky wagers gone bad. Unrequited love and misunderstanding provide many moments of tension, and an interesting twist at the novel’s conclusion provides a satisfying end.
I enjoyed Emery Lee’s debut novel very much. While written in a more modern style and a touch saucier than Jane Austen, Lee’s writing had a similar feel, excitement and tension. And like my beloved Walter Farley books, Stakes held many moments of horseracing drama. It felt very epic in scope, a grand tale with many venues and enriching characters.
I only have a couple of quibbles. First, those enriching characters. It may have been due to Lee’s writing style or just my weakness as a reader, but some of the secondary and minor characters frequently became jumbled in my mind. Second, I felt that Lee could have spent just a touch less time recounting English war history. As her bibliography evidences, she has certainly done her homework in regard to this topic, as well as all of the equine-related issues.
Overall, this was a very enjoyable read. I hope Lee’s work is noticed by those in Hollywood, as this movie fan would love to see this on the big screen, with possibly Natalie Portman as Charlotte. Emery’s story and characters are compelling, and it was a treat to be a part of their world. The Highest Stakes is no gamble—Be taken in, and enjoy!
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My complimentary copy was given by Sourcebooks, with no obligation other than an honest review.