Beautiful circus horse Belladonna has been sold away, and her acrobat-rider is desperate to find her. Thomas has abandoned school after months of trying to make sense of letters and words, returning to work in his father’s wheelmaking shop, sketching maps and animals in his spare moments.
Rambling the paths near his village, he discovers the young French rider seeking the horse butcher rumored to have bought Belladonna. Even though England and France are at war in 1757, Thomas decides to help Ling search for her beloved mare, entranced by her stories of their circus performances, leaping and dancing through the air.
It turns out that Stubbs the horse butcher is really an artist studying horses’ bodies and beauty for his paintings. Belladonna did not stay with Stubbs, but has been passed on to a nobleman’s stables. The artist offers Thomas work as his assistant, detailing horse anatomy and improving his drawing skills. Ling’s impatience to find Belladonna grows as winter sets in and Stubbs cannot remove the mare from her new home.
Will Ling try to rescue Belladonna by herself? Will English soldiers find the young French girl, even if she stays hidden in the countryside? Can Thomas settle down to a village wheelmaker’s life after learning about art and beauty and dreams from Stubbs and Ling?
Charming Ling and tall Thomas are clever young people, trying to get past war-fueled suspicions and struggles in this lyrical novel that takes us to the time and place where the real artist George Stubbs drew and painted horses with precision and affection.
Recommended by: Katy Manck, Librarian-at-Large (retired academic/corporate/school librarian), Gilmer, Texas, USA