Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5
The 1949 Newbery Medal Winner, King of Wind by Marguerite Henry, is another horse book. It tells the tale of the Godolphin Arabian, the father of many famous race horses. It is as much the story of the horseboy Agba as it is of Sham, who endures many trials and tribulations before proving his worth as a sire of racers.
The book begins in Morocco during Ramadan. Agba, a mute horseboy, tenderly cares for a pregnant mare, attending the birth of a foal marked with symbols for both good and bad luck. He prevents the stable master from killing the ill-luck foal and seeks out camel milk for him when his mother dies. Agba names the foal Sham (Sunshine). Eventually, the pair are sent to France as a gift for the young Louis XV. Due to lack of feed on the journey (a merchant swindled the Sultan and didn’t provision the boats), the 6 horses arrived looking raggedy. Sham is set to pulling the cook’s cart, a task he will only undertake when Agba works with him. After an incident involving flying pigs – the crafty horse waits until the cook has a fully loaded cart, then takes off – the cook sells him to a brutal master. Sham and Agba are rescued by a kindly Quaker and taken to England. They change hands a few more times, acquiring a friendly cat in the process. Agba ends up in Newgate for “burgling” after he climbs over the stable wall simply to visit Sham. The Dowager Duchess of Marlborough and the Earl of Godolphin rescue him. But alas! Not all is roses yet. No one knows of Sham’s racing ancestry so he is again relegated to working horse. Agba releases him when a mare comes to the property, resulting in their exile until the resulting foal is a natural racer. Sham returns in state and lives like a king, siring many racers. Agba rides him before the queen when all three of his sons win their respective races at Newgate, saving the fortunes of the Earl of Godolphin.
I enjoyed this book. It is fairly fast paced, so difficulties and situations resolve quickly. The author depicts various disparate physical locations vividly, matching the characters to their setting. One of my favorite passages was where Agba compares the Sultan to a camel in great detail, opining that “even his feet were like a camel, spongy and broad and shapeless.” There are no blatant stereotypes present, with both sympathetic and unsympathetic people in all locations. The balanced focus between Agba and Sham draws the reader into the story, much more so than Smoky, where the story was told solely from the perspective of the horse. Although Sham never gets to officially race, he receives the title “Father of the Turf”, with most Thoroughbreds tracing ancestry back to him. I would highly recommend this book most children, especially those who are horse or animal crazy.