Blue Horse Dreaming by Melanie Wallace Harvill Secker, HK$198 An early passage in Blue Horse Dreaming gives a glimpse into the nature of Melanie Wallace's second novel. The passage - a singular paragraph that runs to a page and a half - speaks of an outpost, an 'ill-fated ship' according to the novel's protagonist. The passage goes on to describe every element of this outpost, matching nearly every noun with an adjective, every verb with an adverb. The passage is effective in scene-setting, but the length of the list undermines the suggestion that this outpost is sparse and barren. Blue Horse Dreaming tells the story of Major Robert Cutter, a man who has survived the American civil war and the deaths of three of his children. He has accepted a position to command a frontier outpost but his redoubt is flailing: men are falling ill, supplies are dwindling, requests for aid go unheeded or, perhaps, the messages are undelivered. Events take a different course when a pregnant Abigail Buwell is returned to the military camp after being kidnapped and having lived among 'savages' for years. Abigail does not want to be at the military settlement and the only thing she tends to is a horse that will not leave her side. The novel comprises their tales wound together, along with the mysterious image of a boy that haunts Cutter throughout. Stylistically, Wallace, whose first novel The Housekeeper made the longlist for the Orange Prize, employs some particularly interesting techniques. The story is told almost entirely in the present tense, with the occasional hint of what is to come prefigured in the future tense. Given that the story is set two centuries ago, this proves an inventive means of giving the story a connection to modern times. There is also relatively sparse usage of dialogue, but that allows page upon page of description, only some of which is necessary. However, interspersed with these passages are other devices that help weave together a complete story. Some are captivating character insights, often highlighted in Cutter's personal correspondence, which includes requests for aid and letters to his wife, Lavinia. Particularly touching is Cutter's list of good and evil, where he writes, 'Good: I love my wife. Evil: I cannot remember the sound of her voice. Good: I command a frontier post. Evil: I command a frontier post.' The secondary character of the journalist provides another means of narration. As Abigail is given to the outpost, so another woman is taken captive by the 'savages' and her story is written up in a newspaper article. The journalist, ever pressing, later returns to hear Abigail's story, but much is left unsaid. Wallace's decision to use present and future tense requires some patience from the reader. By no means is the execution awkward, but combined with only the occasional use of dialogue (and the total absence of quotation marks), the reader may feel she is never really part of the book. The reader is kept at bay, glazing over at some passages; and while it is easy to sympathise with the characters, the book's style sometimes prevents a deeper connection.