It was Simon O’Shaughnessy’s fault, and he knew it. His friend, his mentor, his boss — a man he looked up to as a father — is dead, because Simon wasn’t there to ride Pearl. Instead, he stupidly listened to his ex and had the moles on his back looked at and, after the surgery, the doctor’s told him he shouldn’t ride. Not couldn’t. Shouldn’t. So he didn’t. The horse tripped and fell, and Freddie died, leaving behind a widow, three children, and a legacy that Simon will do everything to uphold.
Simon is an eventer and a good one, just like Freddie was (even if he hates dressage). Cheryl, Freddie’s wife, now owns the barns Simon leases and works from and is struggling to hold things together for her children. When she asks Simon to help by riding one of her horses in a show in the hopes of selling the mare, he quickly agrees. It will be good for all of them to get away from the house and to throw themselves into work (and with horses, there’s always work). It will also give him time to get past Max, his ex, whose absence still lingers in Simon’s own house.
At the show, Simon meets Ainsley, a bright and talented young rider who very much likes to drink. He also meets Phillip. Phillip, with his plain brown coloring and pleasant enough features, who rides beautifully. Simon isn’t really looking for anything more than a bit of a distraction at the show, but something about the young man keeps bringing him back and back again. Maybe it’s that smile, or maybe it’s the the way Phillip takes his jumps. Or maybe it’s just because he seems to be the only other gay man at the show. Maybe it’s all three. But for now, he’s just what Simon needs: Distraction. Comfort.
Stars Hide Your Fires is the third book in the Fortune’s Fool series, though I had no difficulty following along with Simon’s story not having read the other books. However, some readers may be put off by the style of writing. This isn’t so much a story as a … well, a diary, almost, of Simon’s life. He is, as a narrator, cold and clinical and more interested in the horses and how they’re ridden than any romance. It’s also a book steeped in the horse world, detailing jumps and rides and involving some horse jargon readers may not be familiar with unless they are, or ever have been, horse people.
Simon is a young man, still in his twenties, with a giant chip on his shoulder, one he put there himself. Part of it is the eventer versus show jumper mentality. Part of it is the gay thing. And now he has to deal with an uncertain future. Simon is a talented rider, despite growing up poor, and has fought his way up the ranks. He left his previous job because he didn’t care for the way the German barn treated its horses. Working with Freddie was more like working with a friend. They clicked together, had a similar opinion on horses and riding. Simon spent his time learning, giving lessons, and working with and riding for Freddie on the horses. Now everything’s in the air, and while he still has the money his father left him, he doesn’t even have a horse to his name. While Simon does own part of Pearl and Jazz, Freddie’s two best eventers, he doesn’t have the money to buy them out from Cheryl.
Phillip is a young man who loves horses. With his father’s past forever following him (his father was a trainer, but there were rumors of cruelty and the death of a student, and the gossip still lingers) he has to work almost as hard as Simon to prove himself. He loves jumping and he wants to jump, but his mother is demanding he finish college, first. Phillip also likes to drink, even though he’s under the legal drinking age, and the friends he keeps — Ainsley in particular — encourage him to drink often. Simon, as the son of an alcoholic, isn’t thrilled with that aspect of Phillip’s life.
Simon loves the way Phillip rides, loves to watch him with the horses. And yes, eventually, grows to care for Phillip, too. But, Simon is an unreliable narrator. Or, rather, an indifferent one. He isn’t interested in love stories and romance; he’s here for today, not tomorrow. What he sees in Phillip and what he wants from him are straightforward. A body, a friend, and someone who will share his passions and be there for him at the end of the day. Phillip likes Simon, likes him enough to go to a sports bar and be bored to tears as they watch a baseball game, so whatever Simon feels, Phillips feels it, too.
It’s hard to review a book like this. There’s a lot of jargon, a lot of horse terms and show jumping and eventing terms that might cause a bit of difficulty for someone who is unfamiliar with the sport. The book is also less a story and more a glimpse into Simon’s day-to-day life. There’s no great overarching plot, no theme, no world building or clever twist to catch the reader by surprise. There’s no drama, and while there’s honest grief at Freddie’s loss, and a bit of guilt over the fact that Simon cheated on Max, there’s no angst. As someone who loves show jumping (sorry, Simon), I enjoyed this book. Not so much the romance, though, which often seems to take a back seat to the horses. While I intend to get the other four books for myself, I’m not sure I can honestly give this book four stars if only because the average reader may be either confused or uninterested in a good portion of the book, and the writing style can be somewhat off putting, itself.