Horses of Heaven

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In HORSES OF HEAVEN, Gillian Bradshaw combines myth and history, as she did in her Arthurian trilogy, HAWK OF MAY (1980), KINGDOM OF SUMMER (1981), and IN WINTER’S SHADOW (1982), and in other works set in the ancient world, such as THE BEACON AT ALEXANDRIA (1986). Utilizing her classical education, Bradshaw produces stories so well founded in fact that her excursions into fantasy are totally convincing. In HORSES OF HEAVEN, the mysterious white horse and the dragon of the mountain pass seem as real as the very human rulers of Eskati, the city in Central Asia where most of the story takes place.

HORSES OF HEAVEN is a story of the conflict between duty and passionate love, told by Tomyris, a young woman attached to the courts of King Mauakes, as an attendant to his bride, Heliokleia. From the beginning, the arranged marriage has small chance of success. Heliokleia is a pampered, sheltered girl, accustomed to having her own way, and also accustomed to living in an elegant sophisticated society. Mauakes is a tyrannical man, whose personal habits and sexual brutality repulse her. Although she owes her husband obedience, Heliokleia is able to survive only by retreating into numb passivity. She and the son of Mauakes, Itaz, try desperately to resist their feelings for each other, but eventually Mauakes’ mistreatment of his wife and his son drives the lovers into each other’s arms.

Bradshaw’s sympathetic understanding of the all-too-human characters in HORSES OF HEAVEN and her grasp of imagined events at a real time and in a real place make this novel one of the best of the genre.