Cover Image: Rough Magic

Rough Magic

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Member Reviews

This book is super moreish. The chapters are short and the story scoots along. I found myself reading snippets throughout the day until I ran out, having practically inhaled it.

Lara Prior-Palmer is a restless 19-year-old who, on a whim, signs up for the most dangerous horse race in the world. 1000 kilometres on 25 basically wild ponies across Mongolia, mimicking Ghenghis Khan’s postal service. Only half of the competitors each year finish. Prior-Palmer signs up late so she arrives in Mongolia without half the preparation, gear or basic necessities such as a rabies vaccination and… has a go.

I won’t give away much, even though Prior-Palmer herself reveals the outcome very early on in the book, which I found disappointing from a narrative perspective. But, generally, the book follows Prior-Palmer’s experiences through the race, including some research and thinking about Mongolian history and philosophical musings on horses and life.

Honestly, this is the sort of memoir whose premise you’re either inherently interested in or not.

Turns out I am quite interested in 19-year-olds flying to remote places and having a go at stupid challenges they’re unprepared for because what else have they got to do? Or lose?

Prior-Palmer’s prose is poetic and frustratingly overdone by turns. She has a knack for description, but sometimes her more philosophical wanderings felt put on or overly grandiose. The whole book has a stream-of-consciousness quality to it, which makes it feel like the headspace you get into when you’re doing an endurance activity like this, but I also found the chapters could feel a bit disjointed, finishing seemingly mid-thought.

I felt quite sorry for Prior-Palmer’s main rival throughout the race, too, who I felt was portrayed rather unsympathetically.

Despite these problems, I enjoyed this quite a lot, basically couldn’t put it down and spent the hours after finishing it scouring the internet for news articles, images and video clips of the race and Prior-Palmer and Mongolia.

It’s a fast read and a fascinating, crazy true story that I’m very glad to have read. It’ll leave you with an itch in your own soles.
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I really enjoyed Rough Magic.  Having grown up with ponies myself I was immediately hooked by this once in a life time adventure which I wished I could have done when I was young. The story was exciting, honest and fresh and I was extremely proud of Lara’s achievement.
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Really enjoyed this book.

Not what I usually tend to read, but I found the blurb on NetGalley interesting.

The book is a personal account of experiencing the Mongol Derby, an immense show of endurance and perseverance. It's reflective on life from the author's perspective and I found it refreshing and honest.

There are some cultural references as well as descriptions of the weather, landscape and environment of Mongolia from a foreign perspective, which I thought made the book richer.

I would strongly recommend this.
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I really don’t know what to think of this memoir of an incredible race on horseback across Mongolia. Lara tells the tale like a stream of consciousness, leaping from one random thought to another . I never really understood how she progressed in the race, she seemed completely chaotic, unorganised and unable to work the gps. However she did. Just as I was wondering what on earth she was rambling on about she would say something that seemed quite profound or touching. Strangely endearing, on balance I enjoyed it.
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Thanks to NetGalley for the chance to read this book pre-publication. I really enjoyed it for being something a bit out of the ordinary and also British ! I have read other 'racing' memoires and despite a couple of glaring errors in the narrative I thought this one was great.
There was a bit too much air-head musing for my taste but that is just the nature of the author. Well done, oh and "Congratulations on your great win !"
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I picked this book because of the Prior -Palmer name ,having been horsemad in my younger days.  It was totally different to the book I was expecting but a fantastic story of a gruelling race interwoven with the mind ramblings of an angst ridden intelligent teenager. You felt at times you were riding alongside Lara and could imagine the landscapes and the people as vividly as she saw it. Totally unprepared for an event she entered on a whim - not really sure how she managed to slip through the net and enter let alone win - ,at times you felt like shaking her and telling her to grow up at others you feel for the vulnerable child she was. Totally natural on the Mongolian ponies and not giving a jot about her personal appearance Lara was obviously born to ride this race It  was a book I devoured and I have since looked up the event and it’s history .
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I enjoyed this book reading about the Mongolian Derby which I had never heard of. The descriptions of the environment and culture also interested me. I was disappointed that  the book told me she won the race before beginning  the story so lost all the anticipation and excitement. This needs to be rectified as it is definitely a spoiler
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Oh I loved this book - I simply couldn't put it down even though I knew the ending and then when we reached the end I didn't want the story to stop! Lara PP is the niece of Lucinda PP the notable eventing rider. Lara obviously not only knows about horses but people too as she seemed to always get the best horse when she asked for the wildest, fastest, craziest horse for each leg of the formidable Mongolia race. This is her story from first thought to the winning post with the ups and downs. Staying in yurts and fancying members of the back up team. Lara is human but with huge will power and stamina.

This is a wonderful and real book and I recommend it very highly. Thank you Lara for sharing!
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The description couldn't fail to attract me - long distance, tough horse race across Mongolia, over 1000km in 7 days on local horses through stunning country (even if I knew that there wouldn't be time to make much of the  landscape or people). It didn't start well for me as the author entered apparently on a whim, didn't train, was under prepared in terms of everything from knowing how to use a GPS to organising vaccinations, And what about taking all of her various pills out of their packets and throwing them all into a poly bag to save space - what an idiot! I put most of it down to here being only 19 and full of naive enthusiasm, the pill situation to sheer stupidity. She seemed almost proud of being dis-organised and muddling through because someone else would always there to sort things out, and they were. Once the race started things improved a bit although there is far too much about her lack of having provided herself with toilet paper and having to go to the loo 'in the wild' - teenage toilet humour perhaps? She is clearly a complex character and somewhat of a loner, gauche and rather tactless at times - mutton stew with goblets of fat and slabs of dried horse/goat milk might not be typical fare in the Prior-Palmer household but she was in Mongolia, being given hospitality by local families who also provided beds for the night and horses for the days. I felt that she did not give them the respect that they were due. We did at least have some information about the various horses she rode and their characters but what about more horsey stuff - types of harness and so on. We know that the saddles were wooden and that the animals were either stallions or geldings but that's it. The landscape descriptions have fits and starts but nothing much. I have to accept that, it is a race after all with little time to stand and stare - let along make notes in her little Winnie the Poo notebook. The support team and other riders get some discussion, lusting after one of the riders and then one of the vets, being awkward with most, and seemingly getting to hate the American in the lead (although she, too, was an unsympathetic character). The second half of the book seemed largely to be a therapy session - her thoughts on how her character had developed over the years, the trials and tribulations of life, her family, the meaning of life and irrelevant to the race itself. Perhaps you do think these thoughts when riding 100 plus kilometres a day but it seemed largely an indulgence to me I'm afraid. As part of the story I quite liked the intercessions with quotes from "The Tempest" and at least she produces some aspects of Mongolian history in the book - some context then. Overall a mixed impression - she comes over as naive and somewhat indulged but she does have guts - she didn't quit. Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin Random House for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.
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‘Rough Magic’ is a captivating memoir in which Lara Prior-Palmer tells of her participation in the Mongol Derby, a race of 1,000 kilometres on 25 wild ponies, ‘mounting a new steed for every 40-kilometre stage to ensure the endurance fell on the humans, nor the horses.’  A tribute to Genghis Khan’s postal service, this extreme endurance race must be carefully prepared for over many months.  The 18-year-old unpredictable Lara, youngest competitor and a late entrant, only manages to train for about a month before arriving in Ulaanbaatar, 8,000 kilometres away from home.
Whilst Lara’s immediate ambition is merely to survive, she is slowly drawn into wanting to do well and even to win.  Throughout each stage her nemesis, the hugely competitive Devan Horn from the USA, who seems to represent everything that Lara is not, remains ahead but, no spoilers here – the result has been well broadcast, on the last day Lara is victorious!
Prior-Palmer’s ability to weave in plenty of Mongolian history and culture to her story stands her in very good stead.  The details are always interesting and often fascinating; it also becomes clear that the importance of the horse in this country cannot be underestimated.  Life on the steppe is so very different from anything Europeans usually experiences and Lara has to rely on the hospitality of nomadic families, living in their gers (tents) in the middle of nowhere.  The way in which she also includes surprisingly apt quotations from Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ – one of her A level texts – also works very well.  Metaphorically, Lara has landed on a fantastical island and has to navigate her way through bogs and sand and over mountain paths to reach her goal.  At times, she takes on the role of some of the characters without actually spelling this out.  She is the love-struck Miranda, the strange smelling Caliban, the malicious Antonio, the spiritual Ariel.
For those not interested in horses, this memoir is still worth a read.  It reminds us that courage, perseverance, honesty and humility are wonderful traits, worth fostering.  So why no 5* rating?  My suggestion is that Prior-Palmer needs to rein in her use of figurative language.  Clumsy metaphors and similes detract from the overall pleasure of reading ‘Rough Magic’, but not enough to make me want to ‘drown my book’. 
My thanks to NetGalley and Ebury Press for a copy of this novel in exchange for a fair review.
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Lara Prior-Palmer

	Bored with working as an au pair in Austria, and craving adventure, eighteen year old Lara enlists for the Mongolian Derby, reputedly the longest, toughest horse race in the world.  Preparation for this race is scheduled to last for a year, with entrants experienced and regular riders.  With none of these under her belt the confident and foolhardy Lara blags her way into being accepted as a competitor.
	The race is run in sections and at each Urtuu the horses are checked to make certain they have not been pushed beyond their limits, while each day means a fresh (or at least different) horse. Mongolia is a country of which little is known and their horses are typically  bred on the steppes of this huge barren country.
	Competitors come from all over the world but one Texan girl displays her abundant  confidence that she will win, Lara is obsessed with beating her.
	Before departing for Mongolia she is given a book of poetry to inspire her.
She quotes one  verse.
To every man upon this earth
Death cometh soon or late
And how can man die better
Than facing fearful odds.

	This novice writer style  is a stream of consciousness, as if the ideas have newly sprung to mind in the 14 hour day of riding fiercely. Her observations and discoveries of the country interspersed with memories and reflections on her childhood and her family flow in a disjointed and naive style. Her equine inspiration would appear to be her aunt Lucinda Green, multiple winner at Badminton Horse Trials.  I found the middle part of the book rather tedious lacking flow, and too much rambling on about the odd dreams she suffered while in Mongolia. 
	The extreme hardship of the race and the effect the riding had on the participants bodies, not to mention the Mongolian meals, was interesting and quite shocking at times.
But her wry, often toilet humour displayed her courage and determination .  And brave she is, dwelling lightly on the hardships and the pain she endured.  A plucky girl indeed but I am at a loss to understand why she took on such a challenge.
	An interesting book but rather overwritten.
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Lara is feeling aimless and decides on a whim to enter the world's toughest race, the Mongol Derby.  She will be the youngest competitor.  
Whilst I found the book fascinating, I also found her naivety astonishing.  She enters the race after the official cut off time, manages to get a huge discount off the fee, then negotiates again for another reduction. She is still disorganised and without equipment when she arrives.  She seems to have not bothered with pre-race advice such as bringing toilet roll or getting the, pretty crucial, vaccinations.  And so it seems she often relies on others to lend her what she needs, from basic toilet roll to advice.  She even eats her snack bars before the race has  started.  She continues to let others do the work as she travels in a group, letting them navigate, having not learned to use the GPS issued to her.
Against all odds, Lara is successful, against competitors who are experienced in endurance riding and have been training for years in some cases.
I enjoyed reading  the descriptions of the ride, especially the characters of the horses.  And despite her frustrating naivety, I found myself quite liking Lara.
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This was a strange but extremely compelling story. The narration about the race itself was excellent and easily identified the trials and tribulations that a race like this incurs. Very much like the Hare and the Tortoise. Lara herself came across as a very complex young woman with various insecurities which she was able to ignore completely at times. Her ability to overcome what was happening to her was phenomenal. Great read.
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I really enjoy books like this. People who don't want to follow the crowd and who dare to do something different. When it's this different and this crazy....even better. I mean would you go and enter the most difficult derby in the world with no riding experience and aged only 19?

I liked and admired Lara from the start. Ok,she's naive sometimes with the travelling and what's needed in terms of supplies and carrying equipment, but then she's young and excited about what she's going to do. I recognised that in me a little, not so practical on the everyday stuff, but tell me I can go to mongolia on my own and ride horses - not a problem.

She writes with wit and charm and ....she went to Mongolia to ride in the most dangerous and trickiest horse ride. These horses are wild and often the riders and horses don't come back. Reckless or adventurous. Totally adventurous I would say. Why not? Go for it. What a memory to tell your grandkids.

The book is honest, raw and emotional and it's a very different kind of travelogue/memoir to what I've been reading so it really did standout. Rant alert - These are the people we need as role models not reality 'stars'. - rant alert over.

The Mongol Derby  is a race of some endurance - the conditions and rules are strict and the more I read, and then researched about this race, the more I was excited for her if not a little scared.  It's a course that recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan. So, history, heritage and a young woman with a kick ass attitude. Loved it!

She writes well about her experiences and her feelings and I almost felt like getting on a horse myself when I'd finished. I'll leave that to her though - I'll stick to the donkeys on the beach.

Lara, I applaud you and what a journey! Unique, different and  I actually cheered when she won the race! Totally caught up in this. REcommended!
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Rough Magic, Riding the world’s wildest horse race, Lara Prior-Palmer

Review from Jeannie Zelos book reviews

Genre: Biography and memoirs.

I so wanted to love this book, I'd adore to have taken part in a ride like that. To the astonishment of my totally non horsey family I grew up with an adoration for all things equine as soon as I could walk. 
It took me until I was over 30 to have my own horse but there is a real magic between a horse and rider when both are willing, a real feeling of oneness, rightness. This kind of race takes that and pulls it to its furthermost. 

Sadly my hopes for the book fell flat. I felt Lara treated it as a bit of a joke really, something to pass the time, and that makes a mockery of all those who trained, who organised, did the hard slog of setting it up. 
She enters on a whim, doesn't train, hasn't time to train now having entered at the very last minute. Doesn't have the money but gets the entrance fee halved, drums up some sponsors, and yet still doesn't treat it with the respect it deserves. She doesn't take the required jabs, doesn't pack spare clothes, ignores all the things race advisers suggest taking, gets bored while waiting pre-race for things to set up, so has fun merrily taking all her antibiotics, anti sickness, painkillers etc out of the packets and decanting into a plastic bag. Then takes them ad hoc on the journey hoping for miracles....she tells us proudly several times about this – its why it sticks in my mind. It feels at times as if she's an adult, playing at being a child pretending to be adult...
She lets go of one of the horses while tacking up, takes off head collar before bridling allowing it to charge off. Then waits for one of the race guys to fetch it, with an air of “oh dear, how did that happen? Never mind” It's basic stuff for any rider, strange horse, unenclosed area you NEVER let the animal lose, simply looping the collar around the horse neck would have sufficed but no, Lara knows better.
It wasn't a problem but could have been, these are horses borrowed ( probably for a decentish fee but...) from the locals, who need them for their existence in that harsh place. She's there a couple of weeks, they live there, need their animals in good health to survive. If the horse damaged itself they can't simply call up local vet and have it transported to a nice modern surgery for treatment. Its bullet time. The loan of horses needs respect.  

I did enjoy the bits about the race, the horses of course, the people that live there, the incredible scenery, but for me Lara herself came over as an indulged child rather than the gutsy young lady I expected. 
What others love about the writing style too just didn't resonate with me, they enjoyed her “verbal acuity” - for me it read more like self indulgent ramblings apropos of nothing. I love to read about people's history, families, the personal touch but Lara's came out in such a strange way I felt they were all really strange folk, and I'm sure that's not what they are or what she intended. 

I admire her hugely for doing the race, but found her lack of planning, lack of respect for the race, for the horses, for all the hard work others have done to let her have this week or so of racing really difficult to let go. I just couldn't get past the fact that it felt as if she treated it all as a bit of a joke really.  Others can get past the things that grated on me and adored the book for what it is, a retelling of an amazing race from one of the participants, so you may feel like them and love this novel. I didn't. 
I enjoyed parts of the story, wanted to give her five stars just for taking part, and yet even that achievement gets tarnished for me by her way of treating the whole things so casually. 
She's not sure even as she starts, that she actually wants to win, mulls over what happens if she just gives up on day one...and that non commitment feels like a slap in the face to all those who've worked so hard. 
I guess its like someone talking their way into a place in the UK Grand National at last minute, getting one of the best horses to ride, but not bothering with training, protective clothing or learning the course route, and then just as race is starting announcing to news media they're not really sure if they'll try to win, maybe a fall at the first might be whats best, maybe they'll just try to finish, or get half way or....See? It denigrates all those who have put in the work to me. 
That she finally won feels like good luck more than actually hard work, and that doesn't feel right in a race of such epic uniqueness. 

Stars: Two and a half. Others love it, what I didn't like they clearly got past, so may you. Each to their own. Its not a bad book, just one that wasn't for me.

Arc via Netgalley and publishers
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Rough Magic is an amazing adventure story a story of guts strength fortitude.The author atbthevyoung age of nineteen decides to enter this grueling horse race a race for days at time treacherous scary never ending.This is a wonderful raw story of this young woman who enters on a whim not a truly experienced horse woman who despite it all wins this amazing race.A gorgeous book a phenomenal race an amazing read. #netgalley #randomhouseuk
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Read this book in two days but could have done without the continual name dropping of Aunt Lucinda (Prior Palmer, Olympic three day event champion) after the first few chapters. Must admit that I tended to gloss over some of the unusual poetry and historical references to Gengis Khan towards the end. However I still enjoyed this highly unusual book about a horse race I had not previously heard of.
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