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Coal Black Horse

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  1,286 Ratings  ·  290 Reviews
The Civil War has provided the backdrop for several authors in recent years: Michael Shaara, Robert Hicks, E.L. Doctorow, Howard Bahr, and Charles Frazier, to name a few. Robert Olmstead can take his place among the best of them with this stirring tale of a 14-year-old boy's loss of innocence as he follows the horrors of war.

The boy is Robey Childs, sent by his mother to

Paperback, 229 pages
Published May 20th 2008 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2007)
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Jeffrey Keeten
Jun 02, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Lawyer
”He let float in the dark air his free hand and then raised it up and reached to the sky where his fingers enfolded a flickering red star. The star was warm in his hand and beat with the pulse of a frog or a songbird held in your palm. He caressed the star and let it ride in his palm and then he carried the star to his mouth where it tasted liked sugar before he swallowed it.”

Robey Childs’s mother had a dream that Stonewall Jackson had died. In her mind, if Jackson was dead, then the war was ove
I was impressed with Robert Olmstead's spare, lyrical prose in this coming-of-age novel set during the Civil War. Robey Childs is a 14-year-old boy living on an isolated farm in the region which is now West Virginia. His mother has a premonition that Confederate General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson has died, and that her husband is in danger. She sends her only child on a journey to find his father, and bring him home. A neighboring shopkeeper gives him an experienced coal black horse to ride. The ...more
Apr 26, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Michael by: Booknblues
I was emotionally blown away by this timeless tale of a 14-year old boy’s odyssey across the war-torn South. His quest is to avert his soldier father’s death in the Civil War as foretold by his prescient mother. At their homestead in West Virginia, Robey’s mother gets a vision about the death of General Stonewall Jackson, and renders this portent:

“It is now over”, she said, not looking at him, not favoring his eyes, but looking past him and some place beyond. … “This was a mistake a long time be
May 01, 2015 Algernon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015

In a sense, all stories are about what we mean to ourselves and what we mean to each other. It's really that simple, but every one of them has to be different.

This is a quote from the afterword of the Robert Olmstead's novel, and it explains in part the sense of timelessness, of the universal truths that stand as the foundation stones of his tale of war. The names of the characters, the names of the places or the reasons for the conflict become irrelevant. The opening passage could be part of
Aug 07, 2014 Mary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, 2014
“You have to know, son. What happened here was not enmity or brutality.”
“Yes sir,” he said. “I know. Rest now.”
“This was not the raving mad. This was not for love or greed or ignorance. These are the well bred and the highly educated. This is humanity. This is mankind, son.”

Coal Black Horse was a horrific and starkly beautiful civil war novel . Sparse in prose yet deeply expressive, it captures the reality and hopelessness of war and the loss of innocence with a style and imagery reminiscent of
Diane Barnes
Jun 27, 2014 Diane Barnes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I don't think any review can quite do justice to this one. It is one of the most amazing Civil War novels ever written, concerning mainly the days after the battle of Gettysburg. Robey Childs is a 14 year old boy sent from his home in West Virginia by his mother to find his father and bring him home. His journey is a haunted one, and the writing so perfect you can literally feel this boy becoming a man. The depiction of the battlefield after the fighting is over is graphic in its desciption of n ...more
Larry Bassett
Jul 18, 2014 Larry Bassett rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have read plenty of books about the American war in Vietnam but relatively few about the American Civil War. I am wondering if the stories told from a bloody battlefield are timeless. In this powerful and poetic book both death and life exhibit strong powers to prevail.

Coal Black Horse is the story of a fourteen year old boy who is sent by his mother to bring home his soldier/father from the battle at Gettysburg. It is the experience of a young boy in a war. I have heard stories about children
Jul 27, 2014 Josh rated it really liked it
You know how some guys look back to their early adolescent years and brag about how they were manly well before their friends (Uncle Rico). Well for most that self endorsed image is imaginary and untrue. Not so for The 14 year old main character here. He left West Virginia on horseback to hopefully retrieve his hopefully still living Civil War soldier father at the bequest of his mother who had a premonition that her young sons retrieval was the only chance of seeing him again.........knowing fu ...more
Jul 09, 2014 Jeanette rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Masterfully written, this is lyrical at points but also extremely dark in its entirety. It's Civil War at the time of Battle of Gettysburg summer. Classical war novel here; yet there is no part that is not prose beautiful. It is the reality of emotional hopelessness and loss of innocence, if existing before this journey/task- then certainly not after. That surety is what most remains in my memory at the book's end, regardless of there being some elemental forgiving outcomes. The protagonist is l ...more
Jul 14, 2007 Wendy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who liked "Cold Mountain" or likes fiction about the Civil War
A young boy goes in search of his father in the Civil War and finds him on the battlefield in Gettysburg. Very, very dark, almost mythological in scope, and beautifully written, but I had a few problems: 1) It was a bit too graphically violent for my taste. 2) The main character was way too philisophical for his age. I mean, he's 14 years old, and he reflects on things like he's 45. I found this annoying. And 3) Too many coincidences. The main character keeps running into the same people, no mat ...more
Ron Charles
Dec 25, 2013 Ron Charles rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To the steady drumbeat of powerful Civil War novels that continue to arrive, you must add Coal Black Horse. Here, distilled into just 200 pages, is the story of how a young man and a young nation lost their innocence. With his lush, incantatory voice, Robert Olmstead describes a boy thrust into one of the war's most horrific moments.

In the opening pages, 14-year-old Robey Childs is called into the house by his clairvoyant mother. It's May 1863, and she perceives that the Civil War has reached a
Aug 07, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
The influence of Cormac McCarthy is pretty obvious with this one. But that's a good thing, since Coal Black Horse effectively cobbles together the extreme violence and surreal settings and characters of the early novels, to the greater sense of humanity of the later years. But no writer wants to be so heavily compared to another, and it's this sense of humanity that is Olmstead's strength. Great Civil War book.
Mar 26, 2013 Tara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary
Robey Child's mother instructs him to find his father on the Civil War battlefield and bring him home. What follows is an extremely well-written historical novel and coming of age tale. During his journey, Robey is exposed to the best and worst of human nature, from the murderous deceptions of a wartime scavenger to the fatherly kindnesses of a Union officer, and he is forced to examine his own capacity for cruelty, cowardice, bravery, and tenacity in the wake of war's horror.

This book was a win
Joyce Lagow
Apr 20, 2010 Joyce Lagow rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A classic coming-of-age tale set in the horror of the American Civil War.[return][return]After hearing of the death of Stonewall Jackson, Hettie Childs sends her 14 year old son Robey off to find his father, who is fighting with Lee s army. A neighbor gives him a magnificent coal black horse and a pistol, warning Robey that he will have to learn much and by implication mature into adulthood quickly if he is to survive his quest.[return][return]So equipped, Robey sets off from what is probably on ...more
While I was reading this, I kept thinking about communication, and history, and the way we approach historical events, removed by a hundred years.

It's easy to look back on a battle and say, That was the Battle of Gettysburg. It was fought in early July 1863 with 50,000 casualties. You had Meade on one side and Lee on the other. You can go back and draw up the battle plans in your head and watch how it was supposed to go and how it really went.

It's another thing to be there. Particularly from the
Bookmarks Magazine

Robert Olmstead has previously published three novels, a short story collection (River Dogs), and a memoir. Brief and intense, Coal Black Horse has generated high praise and seems destined to become the author's breakout book. Critics inevitably compare the novel to Charles Frazier's masterpiece, Cold Mountain, and other classics of Civil War and postapocalyptic fiction: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, E. L. Doctorow's The March, Cormac McCarthy's The Road, and Michael Shaara's Killer

Feb 22, 2008 Michelle rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm disappointed with this book as in many places it felt choppy and underdeveloped. The main character (Robey-a 14 yr. old boy)was absolutely boring with no personality. Dialogue between the characters did nothing to enhance the story. The Coal Black Horse, who should have been a more important character in the book.....thus the title, was only mentioned occassionally and did nothing to show his importance in the story. The author did do a good job describing the graphic carnage of post-battle ...more
Aug 01, 2016 Erin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the most realistic Civil War books I have read. I know I've read reviews where people complain about the violence...but unfortunately that was how the Civil War was. Anyone who has seen the photographs taken by Alexander Gardner or Matthew Brady should know that the Civil War is not a happy topic. This was a dark story but I found myself sucked into it and it flowed rapidly. I found myself wondering where this young man lived and what would bring him to journey into Pennsylvania, ...more
Feb 02, 2016 John rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Civil War enthusiasts
Recommended to John by: The Southern Trail
Shelves: favorites, civil-war
This book brought to mind the recurring question of what would happen if an apocalyptic event developed. My son is 200 miles away. Would I ever see him again. How would we find each other. Oddly enough I see him tonight, something to talk about. These stories drag me through the wringer.
Deborah Edwards
Aug 02, 2009 Deborah Edwards rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the darkest books I have ever read. Olmstead, utilizing the deceptively simple storyline of a boy sent by his mother to find his father and bring him home during the Civil War, has created a tale of nearly mythological proportions that explores every possible atrocity known to humankind. Along his journey, our fourteen year-old protagonist witnesses life-altering violations of human virtue, a barrage of repulsive acts and abhorrent characters that make him question everything he h ...more
Sep 05, 2012 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is the second novel by this author that I've read, and like the first one, I'm tempted to give this one five stars. It's the story of a boy, fourteen years old, sent by his mother to bring his father home from the Civil War. The father seems to have joined up with the Army of Northern Virginia, and the boy,Robey, takes off on a journey east to find him. He encounters several characters, some dangerous, before he finds his father badly wounded, on the evening after Pickett's Charge. He, and ...more
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Evanston Public  Library
On the eve of the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, Hettie Childs has a premonition and sends her only child Robey, age fourteen, on a mission to bring his father back to the safety of their remote farm in the Virginia hills. Robey's journey is arduous, perilous, and brings this boy's childhood to a sudden and lasting end. Accompanied by a beautiful and mystical coal black horse, Robey is shot, robbed, nearly starved, and hunted by the terrible, desperate characters created by war. He witnesses horr ...more
Sandra Strange
OK, many people rave about this novel. The style and use of language is masterful. The picture of what the American Civil War was really like is gripping, though horrific. BUT the novel itself is BLEAK. The novel tells the “mesmerizing descent into the hypnotic and violent hell of war” of a fourteen year old who must journey (much of the time on the titled horse, which is much wiser and more experienced than he) through the worst of the Civil War, including a graphic rape, brutal scavengers’ dep ...more
Jul 28, 2008 Gena rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Gena by: NPR
I bought this book after listening to a positive review from some guy on NPR. He was so emphatic that everyone listening to the radio program should run right out and buy it that I did just that. I'm about half way through it- I put it down for a few days after realizing that it wasn't the right kind of book to be reading on vacation. I'll go back to it and finish it eventually but I'm not running back. Maybe it's just not my kind of book? I'm having a hard time connecting to the book. Having sa ...more
Apr 05, 2016 Molly rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I just didn't get this book at all!
Jan 19, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing
This is a novel that induces many reactions in the observant reader. I am still thinking about it, and I fully realize that my views on it will undoubtedly change. I guess in my mind that makes it a classic.
Rarely have I read a book that fully depicts the horror of the aftermath of war that does not feel the need to sermonize about war and its banality. Yet this book, which is gruesomely violent and disturbing at times, seems to fully embrace war as a part of human nature, and in its basest elem
Jul 28, 2015 Tyra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Tyra by: Book Study Group
This tale is about a 14-year-old boy who, at his mother's urging, sets out to find his father, who is fighting somewhere near the Potomac River during the Civil War. The boy's mother provides her son with a broken-down horse and not much else. The boy, Robey, obtains food, ammunition, and an impressive coal black horse from his neighbor. Some war stories gloss over the atrocities, but not this one. It is graphic and the young, naïve Robey is forever changed by his adventure.

This was a relativel
Dwayne Wojtowicz
"Coal Black Horse" is a complete departure from the genres that I usually read. This novel embodies the three items of preserverance: boldness, bravery, and self-possession.

The Civil War is the backdrop for this outstanding novel. It is about a boy who is sent on a life changing journey to seek out his father, after his mother has had a premonition about her husband. During his journey, Robey Child, finds every form of the seven deadly sins, but only to survive them and to help save a sexually a
Jul 26, 2014 Al rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
During the Civil War, a clairvoyant Appalachian mother sends her innocent 14 year old son on a solo quest to find her husband/his father, a soldier in the Confederate army, wherever he might be. If you are already getting the idea that this book has a lot of very unlikely premises and events, then you are correct. And they get more numerous and more improbable as the story goes on.
There are a number of well-written scenes and striking images, although there is also a lot of overwriting as wel
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Robert Olmstead (born January 3, 1954) is an award-winning American novelist and educator.

Olmstead was born in 1954 in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He grew up on a farm. After high school, he enrolled at Davidson College with a football scholarship, but left school after three semesters in which he compiled a poor academic record. He later attended Syracuse University, where he studied with Raymon
More about Robert Olmstead...

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“Hast thou given the horse strength? Hast thou clothed his neck with thunder?...He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage...” 6 likes
“All that night he followed bends of the black road jeweled by starlight until the wan light of the dawn touched the east with red and the pastures turned green." (pg. 76)” 4 likes
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