Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer

Rough magic

My enormous thanks to Charlotte Hollinshead at Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer in return for an honest review.

Published by Penguin imprint Ebury on 6th June 2019, Rough Magic is available for pre-order through the links here.

Rough Magic

Rough magic

The Mongol Derby is the world’s toughest horse race. A feat of endurance across the vast Mongolian plains once traversed by the people of Genghis Khan, competitors ride 25 horses across a distance of 1000km. Many riders don’t make it to the finish line.

In 2013 Lara Prior-Palmer – nineteen, underprepared but seeking the great unknown – decided to enter the race. Driven by her own restlessness, stubbornness, and a lifelong love of horses, she raced for seven days through extreme heat and terrifying storms, catching a few hours of sleep where she could at the homes of nomadic families. Battling bouts of illness and dehydration, exhaustion and bruising falls, she found she had nothing to lose, and tore through the field with her motley crew of horses. In one of the Derby’s most unexpected results, she became the youngest-ever champion and the first woman to win the race.

A tale of adventure, fortitude and poetry, Rough Magic is the extraordinary story of one young woman’s encounter with oblivion, and herself.

My Review of Rough Magic

In a moment of rashness, Lara Prior-Palmer enters the Mongol Derby

I almost never read memoir or auto-biographical writing and this fantastic book by Lara Prior-Palmer has served to illustrate what a wealth of delight I am missing. I adored Rough Magic and hurtled through it over a weekend because it held my attention so completely.

Part memoir, part travelogue, part history, part coming of age narrative, Rough Magic is totally captivating. Hearing about the race is exciting enough, especially with the added peril of Devlan riding ahead of Lara for most of the race, but I hadn’t expected quite such beautiful and atmospheric language. Lara Prior-Palmers prose has the same kind of resonance as Dylan Thomas’ verse and the recurring references to Shakespeare’s The Tempest add to the other-worldy feel of some of the passages. The writing is vital, lively and evocative.

I loved the way Lara Prior- Palmer transported me to a life so different from my own. Her naivety afforded a freshness to her descriptions that took me to the heart of Mongolia and the race itself. There are so many aspects of the writing that I want to explore further that great joy and entertainment lasts long after Rough Magic has been read. Save for an afternoon on an Icelandic pony a couple of years ago, it’s about 45 years since I last rode and yet Lara Prior- Palmer’s words brought that connection between human and animal flooding back. Indeed, so vivid are her descriptions that a reader needs to know nothing about riding to be immersed in, and captivated by, this adventure.

However, the element I enjoyed the most in Rough Magic was getting to know the author  – as much as that is possible, given that she hardly seems to know herself. Her sense of isolation, of always striving for something that is just out of reach, of never really being allowed just to be herself, shines from the page so that it is impossible not to like and admire this incredibly feisty young woman. She made me smile with her ignorance and her vitality. She drops life changing details into her writing almost as asides and Rough Magic has made me admire Lara Prior-Palmer enormously.

Having thought I wouldn’t be much interested in Rough Magic, I have finished the book feeling energised, entertained and privilged to have had a glimpse of Lara Prior-Palmer’s personality and experiences. I thought Rough Magic was magnificent and can’t recommend it highly enough.

About Lara Prior-Palmer


Lara Prior-Palmer made headlines in 2013 when she became the first woman — and the youngest ever competitor — to win the Mongol Derby. Born in London in 1994, Lara routinely packed and unpacked her bags as a child, despite having nowhere to go.

She studied conceptual history and Persian at Stanford University, and has lived and loved, for varying lengths of time, in California, England, Iran and Wales. Rough Magic is her first book.

You can follow Lara on Twitter @LaraPriorPalmer and visit her website for more information.

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