Book Reviews

Shoot The Horses First by Leah Angstman

What Da Cover Says: Through a historian’s lens and folkloric storytelling, the pieces in SHOOT THE HORSES FIRST revel in the nuances, brutality, mythology, and tiny victories of our historical past. A launderer takes us inside the linens of the richest families in early Baltimore. A child on the Orphan Train has his teeth inspected like a horse. Civil War soldiers experience PTSD. While one woman lands on an island of the Wampanoag tribe, a woman 200 years later finds Apache in a harsh frontier. Children survive yellow fever, the desert heat, and mistaken identities; men survive severed fingers, untested medicines, and wives with obsessive compulsive disorders. Frederick Douglass’ grandson plays violin at the World’s Fair on Coloured American Day, a woman with disabilities is kept hidden away like she doesn’t exist, and a botanist is denied her place in a science journal because she is female. Themes of place, war, mental illness, identity, disability, feminism, and unyielding optimism throughout harrowing desperation resurface in this collection of stories that takes us back to time immemorial, yet feels so close, and all too familiar.

What I Says: Every now and then you come across a book that is so good that any words that you are able to string together are never going to do the book justice. Shoot the Horses First is one of those books, a collection of historical short stories that are impeccably researched (99% sure if you had a time machine, you’d meet Angstman sat somewhere taking notes) and are a massive joy to read. They do have one fault though…each story is over way too soon dammit!

By far my favourites in this collection were the longer stories, Casting Grand Titans follows a trailblazing woman as she battles against the male institution of science, even though she has a degree and proven herself, being a woman means she can’t be taken seriously, or even be paid a proper wage…and all this whilst carrying out heroic activities. A Lifetime of fishes follows another strong independent woman involved in a shipwreck and rescued by an Indian, the detail and care by Angstman here following Indian traditions and using their language, when possible, reminded me so much of her last book Out Front The Following Sea. Finally, The Light Ages; or, Holes in the Heart was so moving I almost cried at the end, it follows a young woman kept in hiding from a domineering mother and a young man who tries to share her and her music with the world, the writing was stunning here, and I could almost hear the music…even over my neighbours having a shout at each other.

At the end of the book are some historical notes and these are well worth a read, you’ll be surprised that you have learnt some facts from reading this book and there is the fantastic news that some of these short stories were inspired by upcoming books…I can’t wait to give those a read. As you can probably guess Angstman is one of my favourite authors and this is the perfect book for those to also become hooked on her work. A fan of historical fiction? Then grab yourself a copy of Shoot the Horses First.

Massive thanks to the author and Lori for organising a copy for me to review.


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