book reviews · gita v. reddy · hunt for the horseman · middle grade

Hunt for the Horseman by Gita V. Reddy

hunt

“This was the way of royalty. Whatever they did became history.”
Thank you very much to Gita V. Reddy for providing a copy of her novel in exchange for an honest review.

Hunt for the Horseman by Gita V. Reddy is a compelling and adventurous middle-grade story about the importance and strength of family and culture.

Over a century ago, a young prince hid his ivory horseman toy from his brother in one of the many secret compartments of the palace. The toy was never found and the search for it became a legend for the descendants of the princes, a  game called Hunt for the Horseman, but all searches for it proved futile and the horseman remained hidden.
One hundred and twenty-five years later, the royal family gave up their sovereignty once British-ruled India became free, and retain only the palace and the local village to care for. But the land mafia now desire the palace and will threaten, kidnap, and even murder, in order to steal it. While the once-royal family fight a losing battle in court to save what is rightfully theirs, they come together for a last family gathering in the palace.
Sandy, who has always lived in the U.S., and other children of the family are determined to find the horseman. One of them, a computer whiz, designs a software to help organize the search. Meanwhile, as the court hearing approaches, the thugs resort to very dangerous tactics.
Will the horseman be found? Are the children safe? And will the palace be saved?

Hunt for the Horseman was unlike other middle-grade novels I have read before. For a children’s book, there is a substantial amount of violence and terror, which I found refreshing. I often detest people who attempt to shield children from the realities of the world: that does no good; children are stronger than many people believe and I am thankful that Reddy portrayed them as the heroes of the story. There are many characters in this novel, but the children really shine through. Each child has a distinct personality and, despite the initial confusion at the beginning of the book as to who is who, I found myself gravitating towards the children as the novel progressed.

“Son, by hiding your toy you are depriving yourself of so much fun. Why don’t you share it with your brother?”
Surya smiled and said, “Mother, this is fun. Great fun.”

While Sandy, at least according to the synopsis, is depicted as the novel’s protagonist, we quickly learn that that is not the case. Each character in this substantial cast of individuals is given plenty of screen time, which I admired considering the short length of the book. Sandy is a strong character who undergoes a considerable journey: early in the novel, Sandy is unenthusiastic about visiting the family’s ancestral home and intimidated by the sheer number of people visiting, whom she had never met before. She quickly overcomes her fear and forms life-long friendships with the cousins she meets. While the novel is part-adventure part-mystery, the central theme is about the importance of family and the bond that ties everyone together.

I will admit that I don’t know much about the history of India, something I am sorely ashamed of as the country has such a fascinating and rich culture. I have always wanted to learn more and Reddy’s brief lessons in history peppered throughout the text inspired me to research the proud history of India. What I discovered about British-ruled India was heart-breaking but I am thoroughly impressed that Reddy included these points of history in her story. As this is primarily a novel to be read by children, Reddy is not only entertaining children as they read her captivating tale, but also educating them. She certainly educated me! I had no idea India had so many individual kingdoms before their independence in 1947.

“Was he a myth? Or a trick Surya Bhanu had played on Uday Bhanu, to teach his tormenting older brother a lesson?”

The novel progresses quickly but with a certain depth, too. The central storyline of the hunt for the lost horseman is intertwined with the family’s court case and the search for a missing document that would prove their legal right to keep the palace in court. I was intrigued by the inclusion of the land mafia and the lengths they went to in order to threaten the family. Beyond the sweet and innocent children’s game, we are taught a valuable lesson about Indian land rights and the despicable acts kingdoms and governments committed which resulted in the erasure of Indian sovereignty and freedom for many decades.

Hunt for the Horseman is an utterly unique children’s novel that subtly delves deeper than one would think, and not only entertains, but educates the reader. Reddy is a superb storyteller and I found myself wanting to read more.

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4 stars
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