STARRED REVIEW
May 2019

Rough Magic

By Lara Prior-Palmer

Racing across the Mongolian desert in a pony express-style horse race isn’t a challenge many folks would choose to tackle. But when British 19-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer stumbles across a website detailing this very thing, she impulsively decides to throw her hat in the ring.

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Racing across the Mongolian desert in a pony express-style horse race isn’t a challenge many folks would choose to tackle. But when British 19-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer stumbles across a website detailing this very thing, she impulsively decides to throw her hat in the ring.

The result is Rough Magic: Riding the World’s Loneliest Horse Race, a stunning debut memoir detailing Prior-Palmer’s journey entering, competing in and ultimately winning the Mongol Derby, often dubbed “the world’s longest, toughest horse race.” It’s an extremely demanding test, not for the weak-spirited, requiring riders to change steeds 25 times through 14 different microclimates. In witty, open and revealing prose, Prior-Palmer details a slew of obstacles—from searing heat and pelting rain to food poisoning, uncooperative ponies and, most importantly, a lack of experience and preparation.

Her tale could be pulled from the pages of a Hollywood script, with its sweeping, scenic descriptions of the Mongolian steppe and the allies and fierce competitors who emerge among the unique cast of characters (like the skilled and highly trained Texan rider Devan, with her striking American accent and corporate sponsorships). In spite of being an amateur navigator and rider, who didn’t even bring enough food or clothing, Prior-Palmer makes her way with true grit and determination.

And we passionately cheer her on, especially when she muses that the race is “a live show of humans slowly falling to pieces.” Against all odds, she wins, becoming the first woman and youngest person ever to do so.

The ride is a learning experience for Prior-Palmer, one that helps her overcome fears of fleeing and teaches her to tap into her gut to make her way. As she says once she’s gotten her stride, “The race has got me going so fast I’ve lost hold of my ducking-out technique.” Rough Magic is a true page-turner, told in gorgeous, descriptive prose that readers will tear through like the ponies racing across the plain.

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Rough Magic

Rough Magic

By Lara Prior-Palmer
Catapult
ISBN 9781948226196

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