As usual, I like to start by explaining where I got this book. Well… I got All the King’s Horses from Carla Robinson!
No matter the circumstances, getting a book from the author is always special. Whether a Kindle giveaway or a messy pile of papers, I get a little thrill when a creator gives me their work.
And when a friend asks you to edit her work and she’ll pay you for it? Well, that’s icing on the cake.
But, fear not, dear readers! No amount of money can keep me from bringing you an honest review. Besides, I couldn’t finish reading the Advanced Reader Copy text due to very serious life issues. So, Ms. Robinson has agreed to see my opinions here for the first time too! (ETA: Here’s the book! The book is out now! Go see it, read it, share an opinion! Thanks to Lolsy’s Library for pointing out this info was missing!! She rocks; go read her stuff too.)
She made me swear to review her work honestly too. Before I continue reassuring you this is an opinionated, but impartial review, let me say –
THIS REVIEW IS RATED: “S” FOR “SPOILERS.” READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED!
(FULL DISCLOSURE: I am friends with the author, despite living on two different continents. I also have chronic health issues myself. We have discussed our health, obviously. I have heard some of the genuine trauma and distress she infused into this story. However, we did not discuss this fictionalized version as she’s written it. I’m approaching this review as an editor and trying to disconnect from our friendship. Like the author requested. In fact, I may be harder on her! I know what she can accomplish.)
Phew! Now, let’s get to it!
Robinson is quick getting to the action in All the King’s Horses. In the first chapter, we see the main character, Nola, in a crisis few will experience – a plane crash.
The imagery is intense and impactful. It’s also heart-destroying, with descriptions of horrors one might suffer in that traumatic event.
From there, we see Nola trying to piece her life back together. We’re introduced to her friends, family, job, and boyfriend. The first-person voice sounds like the character is trying to be self-aware, but comes across anxious and unsure. I’m not sure if this was intentional.
Unfortunately, I feel there’s serious lag as the book enters this section and beyond. I, as a reader, was left wondering how Nola had changed due to her intense trauma. By her own description, Nola’s friends act differently towards her, and claim she’s behaving oddly too.
Later sections of the book do begin to pick up again. In my own jaded way, I’m disappointed that it seems to coincide with Nola getting a new boyfriend. This makes my “feminist hackles” go up.
But, at the same time, it shows her reclaiming herself personality once she escapes an abusive relationship. The pace and imagery pick up as she realizes she deserves better.
The ending is incredibly touching and thought-provoking. Robinson leaves the outcome as vague as I’m being here, leaving room for desperate hope. It’s sad, though. And beautiful.
What I found the most interesting wasn’t even technically part of the book. I felt something was “off” while reading, but couldn’t put my finger on what. Reading the Author’s Note made me consider the story differently. I honestly feel it would have served the book better if it were a Foreword.
Robinson explains the initial near-death experience – the plane crash – is a metaphor for the author’s own struggle with chronic illness. Viewing it metaphorically helped a little, but I’m still unsure about it.
The Author’s Note showed why I felt such a disconnect between the plane crash and the subsequent social mistreatment. The note says, “When one falls chronically ill, it is life-altering in a way that others can’t possibly see,” and she “wanted something people could hold onto […].”
I feel – but don’t know for sure – that people would react differently to a plane crash victim. It’s much easier to ignore and degrade someone with an invisible illness. When someone loses an arm, or has one’s name and face splashed across the TV alongside pictures of burning plane-debris, it forces others to sympathize.
Faced with a visual reminder, or small-town familiarity, most people would think treating the “local teacher who survived a plane crash” poorly is shameful. I think everyone would look down on the “friends” seeing their behavior towards Nola.
Speaking of which – Robinson absolutely nails the various behaviors of petty, immature, gossipy coworkers. I really can’t call them “friends” without quotation marks. If that’s how anyone defines “friendship,” they might just be a sociopath. Each character has a unique personality, which they use to damage Nola.
It feels like, instead of being teachers at a secondary school, they’re students. They form cliques, gossip, and spread rumors. Perhaps I’m too optimistic for believing a plane crash victim would escape this treatment. Still, I sense the “minor celebrity” would insulate her.
2.5 – 3 out of 5 stars!
Carla Robinson attacks a complicated and personal story in All the King’s Horses. I just find a public, visible event like a plane crash setting the events in motion seems too fictionalized to me.
My own chronic illness being so invisible might affect my opinion. But, I can’t wrap my head around the author’s choice.
That disconnect aside, I think the book has some great qualities. The characters are well-developed and the situations, sadly, realistic. I feel like it just barely misses the mark.