Author: Mark Helprin
First Published: 1983
Page Count: 748
Film/ TV Adaptation: Yes*
Rating: 4/5 Stars
A story so epic and magical that readers will be left spellbound.
*Rich Story/ Characters *Subtle Use of Magic
*Violence Against Animals *Shifting Point of View
“He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising; a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music.” Peter Lake is a burglar in New York City who is constantly on the run from Pearly Soames and his menacing gang of thugs known as The Short Tails. What at first appears to be just another home burglary in Peter Lake’s long standing career turns into a chance encounter with the consumptive daughter of the wealthy homeowner, Isaac Penn. The frail, but enchanting Beverly Penn and street urchin Peter Lake embark on an unlikely romance that will span generations and change New York City forever.
While this book was not a complete home run hit with me, I was very pleasantly surprised by the story and the overall spell it casts on the reader. Helprin has a way with words and description that paints a rich story without feeling like you’re being drowned in fluffy adjectives. There is also a gradual unveiling of the magical elements of Helprin’s story which I thoroughly enjoyed. You are constantly second guessing the true nature of the villains, the main characters, the mysterious white stallion named Anthansor, and the world itself. Is this reality as we know it or is there magic at play here? Sometimes less is more and that proved true in the case of this book. The less the author explains or reveals about the more curious elements of the book, the more the book starts to take on a mystical feel that completely draws you in.
For all the time the author spends painting alluring mental images of the various settings, I was a bit struck when reading some short instances of violence against horses that pop up randomly throughout the story. It is not by any means a recurring theme in the book and probably happens maybe three times, but it was shocking enough to knock me out of the trance the author’s story had placed over me. In no way did I feel like this added anything to the story unless the violence was related to Anthansor who happens to be a bit of a hero which would give these scenes a purpose. If the other scenes had purpose I’d tell myself to stop being a wuss, and that it helps take the story go where it needs to go, but it doesn’t add anything and therefore, I’d rather not have to be subjected to it. My other qualm was that the book was definitely less exciting when the story shifted to the point of view of other characters besides Peter Lake. When he’s on the scene, you know something good is about to happen. Until then, I felt like I was just cruising through the lukewarm passages about the other characters, waiting for Peter Lake to resurface and get things moving again. It’s not that the other characters don’t have a purpose, but compared to Peter Lake, I was less enthusiastic about their roles.
Though this is a lovely book that I would highly recommend, I will caution any future reader and say that this kind of book is not for everyone. It’s a hefty tome whose story I found epic, romantic, and classically magical, but not everyone will be able to enjoy this kind of story. That was definitely evident by the Goodreads page. But from my experience with the book, I noticed the author’s writing style is extremely descriptive and that the action is sporadic. The plot may not move fast enough or the writing could be too detailed for the casual reader. I would never turn anyone away from a book they really wanted to read no matter what their level of engagement is with reading as a hobby, but overall, I think it’s the bibliophile, and especially those who immerse themselves in all types of genres, that will really get the most out of this story.
*Film Adaptation: (Starring Colin Farrell, 2014)