The Horse and His Boy is an interesting book in the Narnia series. While it was written later than the others, it falls chronologically during the last portion of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I guess you could say it's "in between" Lion and Prince Caspian but that's not entirely true as it is set after the climactic conclusion of Lion but before the Pevensie children return to England. The Pevensie's are ruling as kings and queens in Narnia and we have not yet transitioned to their next adventure.
In The Horse and His Boy, we find ourselves in a strange land that exists far to the South of Narnia. This is a land without magic and without many of the freedoms and happiness that exists in Narnia. The story initially finds us alongside a young boy named Shasta who is living essentially as a slave to his "father" (a man who found Shasta under mysterious circumstances). Shasta learns that his father is going to sell him as a slave to another man who is even more cruel than Shasta's father. Shasta at this team meets a talking horse. He didn't knew such things existed and is fascinated. The horse, named Bree, tells Shasta about Narnia and together they run away to find freedom and happiness in Narnia.
Along the way they meet a girl, Aravis, who is also riding a talking horse, Hwin, and is also running away to Narnia (in her case, she's a noble girl trying to escape a hateful arranged marriage). Naturally as the four progress northward in search of Narnia they encounter many troubles and adventures. They bicker and quarrel. They make foolish mistakes. They uncover dastardly plots. They grow to love and appreciate each others' company.
Nearly all of the book takes place outside of Narnia and as such it doesn't have hardly any of the magical and fanciful adventures that come from the other stories. As such, I had a harder time comparing it directly to the Narnia books I've read so far. If I was to compare it directly to an adventure tale set in Narnia, I'd have it a little lower on the scale than some of the other Narnia books.
However, in terms of a fun adventure story with a compelling world, it receives high marks. The various towns and kingdoms have stark political and social elements that act as commentaries on human behavior and interaction. The landscapes and cityscapes are described in vivid and lovely ways that make them really enjoyable. The characters are interesting and fun though sometimes they get a little repetitive and flat as they complain or discuss the same things over and over again.
When we were given the magical Narnian elements, the story took on a slightly different tone. As you would expect, we interact a few times with Aslan the great Lion of Narnia. I loved the way he progresses the plot and moves things along while still trying to stay on the outskirts. The religious overtones were certainly still present as is expected from Lewis. I especially loved the comments from Aslan when he was talking with the characters and they asked about another character, to which his reaction was: I'm telling you your story, not [that other person's] story. It was kind of a gentle way of saying "mind your own business" but in a different way…more than saying "mind your own business", he was telling them they should be more concerned with things pertaining to their tasks and quests than what somebody else might have to do. I always love the subtle nuggets that Aslan provides.
Overall I found this an enjoyable read and a fun addition to the Narnia series even though it felt somewhat un-Narnian to me. It doesn't necessarily progress the overall Narnia plot per se but it does provide a different outside perspective on Narnia and Aslan and the universe that Narnia is a part of.
3.5 out of 5 stars
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