Dan thinks about just driving, leaving the whole mess behind. He’s got enough money. He could just arrange to get his stuff and his horse shipped to wherever he’s going. Taking off is what he used to do when things got to be too much, and it worked pretty well, really.
Dan Wheeler thought he’d found lasting love and stability with his life and work partner, Justin Archer. But when Dan finds himself alone again, still working as a horse trainer for Justin’s parents, he has to find a way to accept that his perfect life is gone forever.
Then he meets billionaire Evan Kaminski, who arrives to buy a horse for his younger sister, and Evan’s lover Jeff Stevens, a horse trainer who seems to understand more than just Dan’s job. Struggling to deal with all the upheavals in his life, Dan finds himself drawn to both Evan’s mercurial passion and Jeff’s quiet wisdom. Is Dan strong enough to take a chance on new love, or would it be better—safer—for him to be alone?
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Dark Horse is a rich emotional story filled with solid characters and an interesting, quirky trio. The horse world is presented in intricate detail that is eye catching, although somewhat too involved sometimes. However you can’t fault a book for complex world building and developing a complicated, fascinating main character. There is some significant angst as Dan struggles to get past his loss and then dealing with the complication of not one, but two potential lovers. Yet I never found this to be depressing at all. The drama and sometimes melodrama felt honest and real for the situations and never overwhelming. This is a meaty story you can sink into when you want a slightly heavier romance, but very worthwhile.
The blurb does a good job summarizing the story since it’s a character based piece. It’s shown from Dan’s third person, present tense perspective as he deals with the death of his partner and moving on with a new job and potentially new relationship. The present tense is an unusual choice and it may take a bit to settle in and feel comfortable. The great benefit to this is that the reader becomes very intimate with Dan, his thoughts, emotions, grief, and confusion. Constantly being in his head with this tense allows Dan’s actions and fears to unfold naturally. This lets the reader get to know Dan incredibly well and connect with him on a deeper level. It also serves the purpose of keeping the other characters, particularly Jeff and Evan, somewhat mysterious and incomplete.
Dan is a complex, incredibly well developed character with absolutely no ability to read people. I often wanted to slap him and say “come on! Obviously this is why..” and this inability to read people makes him an inconsistent narrator. Thus all of the supporting characters are seen through this filter of Dan’s ignorance. It’s not necessarily bad and I didn’t mind it for the most part but it leaves a lot of the characters incomplete and confusing. For example since Dan reads Evan’s actions almost universally wrong, Evan comes across somewhat manic. One moment he’s a high powered businessman, the next he’s a jealous lover, then back to a loving brother, and finally a kinky sex obsessed guy. No doubt he’s a little bit of everything and the story makes a point to say he and Jeff are “good guys” almost constantly. I just wish the characterization had been smoother and more even for the supporting cast and less tempered by Dan’s thoughts.
Additionally the relationship between Dan, Evan, and Jeff is really just beginning in this story. It ends very abruptly after they agree to have casual sex and see where things go. There’s one sex scene then it’s over while each of the men have misgivings. There is a sequel coming that’s going to focus on the relationship building and addressing each of the men’s issues (I hope) so the abrupt ending isn’t a big deal though it’s not ideal. The relationship in this offering is more fraught with tension, possibility, and caution. Evan and Jeff have a confusing, open relationship that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense since Dan (again) doesn’t really understand it himself, thus leaving the reader somewhat in the dark too. The lead up though, tension, and chemistry is quite nicely depicted and interesting enough I’m looking forward to the sequel already.
The world building of the eventing setting is fabulously depicted. It’s incredibly detailed with a lot of information and this occasionally slows the story. There is a later competition weekend that is afforded so much detail it slows the pace and diverts the focus somewhat but for the most part, the knowledge and research is rather impressive. This creates a great backdrop that is an important focus without taking over or being forgotten. Likewise Dan’s grief over his dead lover is well handled. He grieves, worries, and recognizes his limits while still having moments of sheer drama and melodrama. These moments are angsty sure but not depressing or too heavy. There are moments you want to slap all the men, moments you laugh, you cry and all together a rather satisfying emotional read.
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