In my review of Crown Prince, the debut novel in Linda Snow McLoon's Brookmeade Young Riders Series (for ages 12 and up), I wrote that I hoped the author had gotten some of the predictable stuff out of her system and was ready to pick up the pace and surprise us in her next book, Crown Prince Challenged.
I think she has done just that. The characters that seemed so formulaic in the first book have grown into real people--some likeable, some not--just as in the real world. Sarah becomes the victim of some very real cyber-bullying by the "mean girls" at the barn. A hurtful rumor that her horse is a danger to others spreads like wildfire, even among the riders' parents. The conniving and underhanded Kelly is at the heart of the attack and soon surpasses Rita as the most unlikeable girl in the barn.
Rita, the rich kid with the professionally trained to-die-for horse, continues her unattractive, jealous sniping at Sarah, who's training the green, off-the-track Thoroughbred Crown Prince under their coach's direction. Sarah is doing a darn good job with her horse and with personal relationships in the barn, but she shows that she's not perfect, nor is Crown Prince.
I'm glad the author lets Sarah be a teenager with all of the insecurities and impulsiveness that goes with the territory and lets Prince act like the greenie he is. He's still the dream horse every young girl wants, but it's good for readers to see the down side of a green horse/green rider pairing.
Competing to be on the Brookmeade team for the upcoming Wexford Hall Cup brings out the best and worst in the advanced riders, and things don't go as expected for anyone. Kudos to the author for shaking up the action and, well, surprising us. The story is spiced with danger, thrills, injuries, poor judgment, treachery, disappointments--and, yes, challenges, as in the title.
Just like real life.
McLoon's experience with horses serves her well in this book as she accurately describes how various situations with horses are handled. And she has cut down on the details of tack-cleaning and stall-mucking a bit, so the story rolls along at a good pace.
A new and very likeable character is introduced to the barn early on in this book. With the arrival of Derek and his imported show jumper, Tim is no longer the only guy in the group. The relationship between Derek and Sarah is, ah, interesting. Since Derek is into show jumping and Sarah is a budding young eventer, there is no competition to screw up the dynamics. I look forward to seeing what happens with them--and everyone else at Brookmeade Farm--in Book Three.