Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Coal Black Horse” as Want to Read:
Coal Black Horse
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Coal Black Horse

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  1,577 ratings  ·  334 reviews
When Robey Childs's mother has a premonition about her husband, a soldier fighting in the Civil War, she does the unthinkable: she sends her only child to find his father on the battlefield and bring him home.

At fourteen, wearing the coat his mother sewed to ensure his safety—blue on one side, gray on the other— Robey thinks he's off on a great adventure. But not far from
Hardcover, 224 pages
Published April 10th 2007 by Algonquin Books (first published January 1st 2007)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,577 ratings  ·  334 reviews

Sort order
Jeffrey Keeten
Jul 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it

Off goes the boy and his horse to a war because his mother said so.
“Thomas Jackson has been killed,” she finally said. “There’s no sense in this continuing.” She paused and sought words to fashion her thoughts. “This was a mistake a long time before we knew it, but a mistake nonetheless. Go and find your father and bring him back to his home.”

Her words were as if come through time and she was an old mother and the ancient woman.

Where will I find him?” he asked, unfolding his shoulders and set
Dec 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
He sits at his desk writing by candle light, a fire burning in the fireplace. He writes of darkness, of days when there was no sunlight, and the picture he paints is so dark that the coal black horse disappears into it, but you know that he is always there. Waiting. Running. Escaping.

He writes about a boy's mother and his father. His father is off in the civil war and wounded, but he doesn't know this just yet. He doesn't know a lot of things, things he has never seen but will see and try to fo
Jan 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, 2017
Why hasn't this haunting novel won any awards? It's truly mystifying. Not to mention disappointing that it's flown under the radar; more people need to know about this book.

There are some books that are written for the story, and some that are written for the beauty of its writing. Very rarely will you find a book that actually possesses both qualities in spades. We have that here.

Robie is sent off to find his father in battle to bring him home. Sounds simple, right? The problem is that he's onl
Coal Black Horse is the poignant and horrendous tale of a boy, a magnificent black horse, and the American Civil War. It is the story of the boy's journey to find his father, and in the process he transitions from boyhood to manhood. The writing is beautiful and the storytelling is superb.

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
Diane Barnes
Jun 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Algernon (Darth Anyan)
Jul 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Larry Bassett
Jul 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sandra Strange
Aug 31, 2009 rated it did not like it
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 02, 2007 rated it liked it
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 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Jan 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 12, 2007 rated it it was amazing
At one level, a stock transformation through a journey story.
At another level, an American Divine Comedy.
A boy travels from the purity of his home and childhood into the depths of hell and returns a man. Hell in this case takes form as the Civil War and specifically, the aftermath of the Battle of Gettysburg; where the death, blood and horror signal the start of a national return to self-evident truths.
The magic of this story is made by the boy's guide; a shaman who casts a mystical spell
Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)
Wow! This is destined to be a classic American novel. A beautiful--painfully beautifully--novel, where every word is so powerfully moving. For many Americans it is truly difficult to fully understand and place the American Civil War in context. This novel does it, and does it through the tale of a young boy and his horse. It is the "Red Badge of Courage" for our time. My hat is off to Mr. Olmstead for writing this terrific novel. This is one that I will surely read again and again.
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
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nov 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was ok
"It is a tale ... full of sound and fury; signifying nothing." -Shakespeare

The above quote tells quite a bit about Olmstead's Coal Black Horse . It is garnish and flair, it is pretty words and gruesome descriptions of the horrors of war, but it is a story without a point, except to say that life is without value and, eventually, someone will end yours and it will all be over.

Olmstead borrows heavily from the styles of Howard Bahr and Stephen Crane to create this book. From The Red Badge of Cou
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

Jul 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 18, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Civil War enthusiasts
Recommended to John by: The Southern Trail
Shelves: civil-war, favorites
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.
Apr 05, 2016 rated it did not like it
I just didn't get this book at all!
Deborah Edwards
Jul 18, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Charlie  Ravioli
So maybe I'm biased because I loved Olmstead's last book (The Coldest Night) so much and it was introduction to his writing, but I'm sorry to say I didn't like Coal Black Horse nearly as much (understatement).

Coal Black Horse is a story of fourteen year old 'boy', Robey Childs, who leaves his mother (at her direction) to go find her husband/his dad, a soldier fighting in the Civil War. Robey is guided thru his journey by a majestic and stately horse that is the color of coal black.

I like the C
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
On the Southern L...: Moderator's Choice, July 2014, Coal Black Horse, by Robert Olmstead 18 63 Jun 10, 2015 02:26PM  
Coal Black Horse 2 32 Jul 11, 2014 07:31PM  
  • How I Found the Strong
  • The Black Flower: A Novel of the Civil War
  • Exley
  • Walking to Gatlinburg
  • Elkhorn Tavern
  • How It Happened in Peach Hill
  • Woe to Live on
  • Wilderness
  • Flags in the Dust
  • Albatross
  • The Spy Lover
  • The Marines of Autumn
  • Sweetsmoke
  • The Clearing
  • The Power of the Herd: Building Social Intelligence, Visionary Leadership, and Authentic Community through the Way of the Horse
  • Iron Branch: A Civil War Tale of a Woman In-Between
  • Jefferson's War: America's First War on Terror 1801-1805
  • Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times
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
“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
More quotes…