Rough Magic

Riding the world’s wildest horse race

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Pub Date 6 Jun 2019 | Archive Date 23 Nov 2020

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'Such an addictive and likeable book...One of this year's best memoirs' The Telegraph

'It’s the resistance to the obvious narratives that makes Rough Magic so appealing: the book undermines lazy women-in-the-wilderness tropes at every turn.' Sarah Moss, Guardian

'A heroic tale beautifully told' TLS

'Rough Magic is transporting, beguiling and terrifically entertaining' Daily Mail

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km. Many riders don’t make it to the finish line.

In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, underprepared but seeking the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Driven by her own restlessness, stubbornness, and a lifelong love of horses, she raced for seven days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could at the homes of nomadic families. Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she found she had nothing to lose, and tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. In one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she became the youngest-ever champion and the first woman to win the race.

A tale of adventure, fortitude and poetry, Rough Magic is the extraordinary story of one young woman’s encounter with oblivion, and herself.


'Such an addictive and likeable book...One of this year's best memoirs' The Telegraph

'It’s the resistance to the...

Advance Praise

"Feisty and exhilarating . . . Horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir." — Kirkus Reviews

"In this sensual, spiritual memoir, Prior-Palmer recounts her grueling journey through immense physical hardship, and her surprising transformation from underdog to champion." — Adrienne Westenfeld, One of Esquire's Best Books to Read This Spring

"Think the next Educated or Wild. Palmer’s memoir of beating the odds to become a horse champion is an inspiring saga of perseverance — and a classic underdog tale." — Entertainment Weekly

"Feisty and exhilarating . . . Horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir." — Kirkus Reviews

"In this sensual, spiritual memoir, Prior-Palmer recounts her grueling journey...

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ISBN 9781785038853
PRICE £16.99 (GBP)

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Average rating from 77 members

Featured Reviews

Lara Prior Palmer's momentous journey to Mongolia is captured in this wonderfully humorous autobiography, in which she enters one of the most difficult horse riding competitions in the world. With very little experience, the teenage Prior-Palmer tests herself to the extreme, crossing 1000km through the desolate steppes. Through intense heat, and at times battling illness, Prior-Palmer seems to surprise all, making this literary marvel a tale of real fortitude, sheer grit and a woman's journey facing herself. I thoroughly enjoyed this unexpected book.

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I love that Lara Prior-Palmer entered this race out of boredom and was totally ill equipped with not even the entry money. Her observations of the other competitors and humans in general are accurate and often very funny. This is a beautifully written memoir, full of humour, honesty and atmosphere. "Ask again - what is it that horses can do for us? - and still I can't give a precise answer. When I arrive at a horse's side, I'm amazed I ever managed to forget that they in themselves could be my destination. I feel calm"

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Why does a 19 year old girl enter a 1000 kilometre horseback race across the Mongolian steppes without training, without the money for the entry fee and without even thinking through what kit she needs? Well, and I suspect it's the reason she wins the race, Lara just loves horses and can't help but respect each one's character. Since the race itself involves 23 stages and 23 different horses this trait proves invaluable. Why? The rules dictate you can't move on until your horse's heart rate returns to 62bpm. For Lara this is the key to her victory as her transitions are invariably short. But this adventure is really more about Lara finding herself as she makes her way over the wide steppes of Mongolia. Often completely alone she has time to chat to her horse, think and even philosophise. Although he whole adventure only lasts 10 days Lara nonetheless presents us with an immensely enjoyable and honest book. She is clearly no mean rider and, judging by this book, no mean author either !

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This is a really fantastic memoir, loaded with action and building constantly as you follow Prior-Palmer on her race. The writing is beautiful, the imagery intense and the sense of overwhelming freedom and choice makes for a really wild ride. Absolutely loved it.

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I initially requested this book on NetGalley because my horse-loving-self couldn’t pass up on a book with a horse on the front cover. I’m a sucker for anything horse related so seeing the cover and the title of the book had me pressing the ‘Request’ button faster than you can correctly pronounce ‘dressage’. We are told the exciting memoir of Lara, a 19-year-old who decides to participate (and ended up winning) the world's longest, hardest horse race in Mongolia despite having very little experience in horse riding compared to her fellow competitors. However, the author’s writing style isn’t exactly my cup of tea as I feel like it lacked substance at times. I never felt engaged with the storyline and often found myself skim reading a couple of lines halfway through the book. That being said I did get used to the author’s way of writing soon enough, and was able to emerge myself more fully into the narrative. One thing I appreciated the most was the author’s ability to bring the setting to life. Every single landscape is described so well that you can’t help but fully visualise the serenity of the scenes. This book is a must read for travellers, horse-lovers like me, and those who appreciate living on the wild side of life. 4 stars. Thank you NetGalley and Penguin Random House UK, Ebury Publishing for providing me with an advanced reader's copy 'Rough Magic' by Lara Prior-Palmer

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Lara entered the Mongol Derby on a whim, and was obviously the most unprepared competitor both mentally and physically but she went on to be the first woman and the youngest person to win the race. It is supposed to be the most grueling race ever and having to cross rough terrain on almost wild ponies changing mount at every station means that it was an incredible feat. I enjoyed the book as it was an amazing story but I did struggle slightly with the writing style and also felt that she told too many stories about herself rather than the ponies and the actual riding

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A truly inspirational memoir, beautifully written. Lara Prior-Palmer became the first Briton - and the youngest-ever competitor overall - to win the Mongol Derby in 2013, and this is her account of this experience. It's a joy to see the world through Lara's eyes and feels like a real adventure.

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