Nancy Springer,
(Underwood/Baen, 1989)

Hoadley, Pa., could be any depressed mining town. But no one's really very nice there, and there are perhaps a few more dirty secrets and hidden pains than you might expect. Four women find common ground to escape their grim lives, temporarily at least, on horseback.

But when a fifth woman, horribly disfigured and emotionally scarred, works a dark and malignant form of magic, the four horsewomen begin assuming the attributes of four archetypal equestrians. (If you haven't caught on yet, one of them rides a pale horse.)

Nancy Springer's Apocalypse brings the world to the brink of destruction. Cicadas swarm Hoadley with the faces and cries of dead children and a grim beast rises. Misfits find a place of hope and healing that confounds local religious leaders. And carousel horses prove to have a special kind of magic.

But it's Springer's characters who make Apocalypse so riveting a read, from slow but steadfast Barry to the judgmental Sojourner and the buoyant, cheerful Shirley -- who has her own secret past. Cally's story is especially sad, as she spirals into an unbreakable obsession with her weight and unrealistic perceptions of beauty.

Springer gives particular strength and focus to her female characters, tapping into feminine power in a way that is neither preachy nor political, but very genuine in a tradition-bound setting where women have been relegated to a supportive role.

Whether these people will save or destroy the world -- well, you'll have to read the book and see.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 30 August 2003

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