The Secret Horses of Briar Hill is a middle school novel with an interesting combination of historical fiction with a large dose of fantasy. It is set in WW11 Britain, in an isolated historic mansion, now converted into a sanatorium for children. Emmaline is one of several children who are quarantined at the hospital to prevent the spread of tuberculosis. All the children are experiencing loss as they cope with the separation, and their disease. Eventually, we learn that Emmaline has not yet come to terms with the death of her father overseas, and her mother and sister in a London blitz attack. Her family still exists in her fantasy world, as do the winged horses that only she can see in the mirrors on the walls of the hospital rooms. No one else seems to see her horses, and she is careful to whom she tells her secret. As she is drawn into the world of the winged horses, she gets a letter from the Horse Lord imploring her to save Foxfire, the white horse with the broken wing that has taken refuge in the walled garden. Emmaline sets out on a quest to find the elements that will save her horse and foil the Black Horse, and his forces of darkness.
Emmaline’s character is strong and resilient in the face of loneliness, danger, death and loss. It is left to the reader to decide whether the horses are just an hallucination; and, to decide whether Emmaline succumbs to her disease or whether the fantasy world gives her the strength to fight and survive. The protagonist, Emmaline, projects a powerful voice, a resilient character and a nature that strives to build and protect strong relationships with both her real and fantasy friends.