Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race


Product Details

$25.00  $23.00
Publish Date
May 07, 2019
5.8 X 8.4 X 1.3 inches | 0.95 pounds

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About the Author

LARA PRIOR-PALMER was born in London in 1994. She studied conceptual history and Persian at Stanford University. In 2013, she competed in the 1,000-kilometer Mongol Derby in Mongolia, sometimes described as the world's toughest and longest horse race, and became the first woman to win the race, and the youngest person ever to finish. Rough Magic is her first book.


Praise for Rough Magic

A National Bestseller
A BuzzFeed Book Club Pick
A Real Simple Best Book of the Year
One of Esquire's Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
An American Booksellers Association Indie Next Pick
An Official Junior Library Guild Selection
Special Jury Mention in the 2019 Banff Mountain Book Competition Awards
Short-listed for the Steppes Travel Adventure Travel Book of the Year Award
Electric Literature, 1 of the 15 Best Nonfiction Books of the Year
A Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Fall 2019 Selection

"If you like your memoirs to revolve around singular experiences, Lara Prior-Palmer's Rough Magic delivers." --John Williams, The New York Times

"An inspirational tale of struggle--dehydration, injury and isolation--ultimately overcome through grit and sheer willpower." --Thomas Gebremedhin, Wall Street Journal Magazine

"This is no fresh-forged mythic hero, but rather a young woman who's still doubting, still equivocating about her right to seek greatness . . . To her credit, the heroine of this story never claims to be flawless, nor even to be a heroine. Ultimately, the book lingers in the mind partly for its fearless prose and partly for its refusal to obey that tired old victorious arc of the journey narrative. Prior-Palmer both embraces the race and disavows it. She pulls back to observe the minutiae of the moment, the marmot holes that riddle the steppe and the infinite, individual blades of grass that paint it green. She offers no easy morals on these dual modes of life and of narrative . . . As Prior-Palmer senses on her journey, reconciling the wisdom of the everyday with the instinct for timelessness and mythmaking is a life's work--work to which Rough Magic is an engaging guide." --Ellie Robbins, The Washington Post

"Excellent prose and rigorous honesty . . . An unusual pleasure to read . . . Prior-Palmer writes with a dash and boldness few writers possess; her language seems sui generis . . . Her narrative alchemy is remarkable; in every chapter, she turns boredom to suspense and back again. The Derby is at once heart-stoppingly close and a miserable slog to which we already know the ending. That shifting--heroism to comedy, glamour to stinking holes in the ground--creates a tension far more interesting than the question of who's going to win the race, or how." --Lily Meyer, NPR

"Her book about the iconic horse race blends humor with a sense of enchantment and wildness . . . Join her for the race of a lifetime." --Jen Rose Smith, Condé Nast Traveler

"Think the next Educated or Wild. Palmer's memoir of beating the odds to become a horse champion is an inspiring saga of perseverance--and a classic underdog tale." --Entertainment Weekly

"In this sensual, spiritual memoir, Prior-Palmer recounts her grueling journey through immense physical hardship, and her surprising transformation from underdog to champion." --Adrienne Westenfeld, Esquire

"The author's writing is joyful. She has a quick, dry wit . . . As she writes, her thinking about life and relationships shines through . . . Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race is an honest book and readers are privileged to witness the author maturing as the pages turn. This is Prior-Palmer's first book. I hope it is not her last." --Joan Kletzker, The Missourian

"The author's prose is poetic, and while the race and Mongolian landscape are conjured beautifully and intensely, the book's emotional impact lies in the nuanced portrait of its subject searching for answers beyond the life she's lived so far." --David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

"What unfolds, Cheryl Strayed-like, is her thrilling gallop to the finish line." --O, The Oprah Magazine

"In her stylish, thrilling memoir, Rough Magic, Prior-Palmer charts the grueling physical and mental race and shows how she embraced her ambition to become the first female winner." --Elizabeth Sile, Real Simple

"Rough Magic succeeds on its realness and Prior-Palmer's unsparing analysis of herself and the scene . . . Even in the down moments, when one of her ponies is temporarily injured and she's struggling, the fast-paced book is lyrical and full of tight, action-packed sentences. It reads like it came bursting out of her." --Heather Hansman, Outside

"An instant classic memoir . . . With whip-smart sass and achingly beautiful observations on life, Prior-Palmer easily breaks us in as she canters across the wild verdant steppes of Mongolia, where the vastness is matched only by the author's unbridled spirit of adventure. We're reminded that despite battling bone-deep fatigue in sweat-soaked clothes, we too have what it takes to stay upright--no matter how many times we may get knocked down." --Lauren Matison, Shape

"An astonishing and hair-raising memoir that you, too, will race to finish." --Newsweek

"Taking off on a horse into the Mongolian Steppe sounds like the bracing inverse to an overpopulated, busy urban life, but having the skills and grit to pull it off is another thing entirely. Lara Prior-Palmer attempted the Mongol Derby not really knowing what she was getting into; she ended it knowing much more about herself, and a race champion besides." --Estelle Tang, Elle

"It feels so tired to call a book inspiring, but that's exactly what Rough Magic is . . . Thanks to Lara's uncanny ability to make the reader feel like they're in this race with her, you'll be captivated from start to finish--and find yourself missing the book when it's over." --Mehera Bonner, Cosmopolitan

"This riveting memoir recounts the author's extraordinary experience completing--and becoming the first woman to win and the youngest person to finish--the world's longest horse race." --Caroline Rogers, Southern Living

"Forthcoming, perceptive and humorous . . . Prior-Palmer's account of her race across the Mongolian steppe is consistently joyful. It reminds us that joy can encompass chronic stomach pain, jammed thumbs, soaked jodhpurs, lost maps, angry boys throwing stones and the brutal tedium of 1000 kilometers on horseback . . . Her gleeful words alone are worth the ride." --Morgan Hunter Thomas, Ms.

"Charming, self-aware, and mercifully devoid of clichés, it's just the sort of breezy travel memoir we've been looking for." --Lale Arikoglu, Condé Nast Traveler

"First-time author Prior-Palmer transforms from hopeless 19-year-old underdog into surprising champion of the grueling 2013 Mongol Derby in this exhilarating, visceral account of her attempt to win a 1,000-kilometer horse race across the Mongolian countryside . . . Filled with soulful self-reflection and race detail, this fast-paced page-turner is a thrill ride from start to finish." --Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"[A] stunning debut memoir. . . . [Prior-Palmer's] 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 . . . Rough Magic is a true page-turner, told in gorgeous, descriptive prose that readers will tear through like the ponies racing across the plain." --Becky Libourel Diamond, BookPage (starred review)

"Regardless of her ability as a storyteller, Lara Prior-Palmer would have always had an incredible story to tell: as the youngest person to finish--not to mention the first woman to win--'the world's longest, toughest horse race, ' the ten-day Mongol Derby, hers would be a memorable memoir no matter what. Luckily for us, Prior-Palmer turned out to have a voice almost as unique as the race she won, which is organized based on the messenger system used by Genghis Khan, in which Mongol horses are ridden across the forbidding Mongolian steppe in arduous relays. At once humble and humorous, Prior-Palmer benefits--as both writer and rider--from not quite grasping the enormity of her aspirations, and pulls off a victory (and story) for the ages." --Jonny Diamond, Literary Hub, 1 of Our 50 Favorite Books of the Year

"Page by page, Prior-Palmer tunes us in, slows us down to her speed, to pony paces, and we begin to attend to the present moment just as she does . . . At every turn, Prior-Palmer's writing is brilliant and clear-eyed and demonstrates more wisdom than any philosopher's theories . . . Presenting such an awe-inspiring page-turning narrative that plumbs the depths of all that's to be found in the present moment--the body, mind, and soul--while dissembling one's own ego with tender rigor is Rough Magic's finest achievement. Lara Prior-Palmer is a writer to watch." --Abby Travis, San Francisco Chronicle

"A gripping, self-searching, triumphant debut memoir . . . The winning vulnerability on display . . . throughout this exceptional coming-of-age tale keeps the pages turning and the reader rooting for this unlikely heroine . . . A breathtaking ride." --Kathleen Rooney, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

"Rough Magic doesn't just describe one triumph: it constitutes another, and in a whole new territory." --Mekiya Walters, The Arkansas International

"We are all lucky she did write it, because it's the rare read that offers what Rough Magic does: a type of pure exhilaration, the kind that snakes through your body in moments both still and hurried. Reading it is a visceral, sensorily charged experience; a, yes, rough and magical ride through one of the planet's most desolate landscapes, and into the mind of a young woman whose fearlessness and curiosity take her--and us--to countless unexpected places." --Kristin Iversen, NYLON

"Absolutely riveting." --BuzzFeed

"[Prior-Palmer's] gorgeous, sensual depiction of this race is a literary marvel; it feels like you are riding alongside her across the desolate steppes; her verbal acuity makes vivid the most elusive of landscapes; her triumph becomes ours." --Kristin Iversen, NYLON

"Forthright and exhilarating . . . A frank and delightful blend of extreme sports and travel writing." --Erin Keane, Salon

"Rough Magic is [Prior-Palmer's] chronicle of the experience, and if her debut as an author is half as strong as her maiden effort in racing, it will be well worth the read." --Travis Waldron, HuffPost

"Prior-Palmer may be a gifted equestrian, but also she's a born writer . . . The journey, told through Prior-Palmer's voice, would've been interesting even without the satisfaction of victory." --Elena Nicolaou, Refinery29

"Rough Magic is Prior-Palmer's wry, no-holds-barred account of how she went from finding herself at the starting line of the 1,000-kilometer Mongol Derby with zero training and zero business riding in the race to becoming the youngest person and first woman to ever win . . . Her self-awareness and refusal to take herself too seriously will have you galloping through this batshit crazy romp of hardship and hilarity." --Allison McNearney, The Daily Beast

"[A] stirring new memoir . . . Many, many readers are going to be charmed by Rough Magic, whether they can tack up a horse or not, and rightly so. The setting is exotic. The challenge is extreme. The protagonist is winsome and imperfect . . . The magnitude of what she ultimately achieves 'stun[s] her into writing, ' but it's not healing that Prior-Palmer seeks, or even liberation. It's the 'world in the raw, ' something many of us have learned to crave." --Alyson Hagy, Literary Hub

"From the opening pages of Rough Magic, readers understand they are entering the mind of a unique personality . . . Prior-Palmer describes the Mongol Derby as 'a perfect hodgepodge of Snakes and Ladders and the Tour de France on unknown bicycles.' As a former horseback rider with and adventurous streak (who also happens to appreciate the Tour de France), I was predisposed to enjoy this book. But it was turns of phrases like that, I quickly realized--surprising, playful, unexpected--that were going to make me love it." --Halimah Marcus, Electric Literature

"An awesome (like literally awesome) memoir of how Prior-Palmer became the youngest person to finish, not to mention the first woman to win 'the world's longest, toughest horse race.' That would be the ten-day Mongol Derby, which is organized based on the messenger system used by Genghis Khan. So, no big deal or anything." --Emily Temple, Literary Hub

"The lyrical prose describing the grit and determination of a woman just on the brink of growing up, the wild setting of this ill-advised journey, and the suspense of a harrowing physical feat propels this narrative into enthralling territory. This will appeal to anyone who has ever felt a reckless youthfulness or a drive to do something big." --Sara Neilson, The Brooklyn Rail

"Joyously refreshing . . . Prior-Palmer is excellent company." --T. E. Lyons, LEO Weekly

"An underdog tale with the honesty, soulfulness, and humor of Educated and Wild. Spirited horses and a spirited new voice!"

"Told in detail, with humor and painful honesty, Lara takes us along on this treacherous, demanding adventure. (Knowing absolutely nothing about horses did not stop me from enjoying the ride.)" --Caitlin Cunagin, Keys Weekly

"In recounting her journey in Rough Magic she strikes a beautiful balance between embodying the thrill and competition of the race--with her rivalry with Devan as the focal point--and also indulging in the race's deeper spiritual side . . . Lara Prior-Palmer's memoir is an essential read for anyone with an unbridled sense of adventure, or simply the desire to believe the impossible truly isn't." --Kelsey Riley, The Thoroughbred Daily News

"Prior-Palmer stunningly became the Mongol Derby's first female winner after 10 days on the course. But there is so much more to the story than just that, and in Rough Magic we will get the full, unbelievable scoop." --Jeva Lange, The Week

"An exhilarating, intense memoir of self-discovery." --Asher Fogle Paul, Brit + Co

"Prior-Palmer writes with the galloping speed of a restless somebody and the unyielding ambition of a true underdog. By turns a tale of tribulation and triumph, suspense and spirit, the emotional journey of Prior-Palmer's debut memoir ignites an immortal spark of inspiration that refuses to burn out." --Paris Close, Paperback Paris

"[Prior-Palmer's] visceral descriptions of each leg of the journey, and the unrelenting urge to defeat the frontrunner from Texas, make for an unforgettable story." --Jane Ciabattari, BBC Culture

"Evocative and utterly idiosyncratic turns of phrase colour every page . . . It's not so much that she's incapable of writing a dull sentence. It's more that you suspect her brain wouldn't know how to formulate an even moderately humdrum thought . . . Rough Magic is transporting, beguiling and terrifically entertaining." --Stephen Cross, The Daily Mail

"Charming . . . Vivid." --The Daily Mail, A Sports Book of the Year

"Prior-Palmer already shares many qualities with classic English travel writers such as Rebecca West and Gertrude Bell, but she is also refreshingly self-aware . . . A heroic tale beautifully told." --Caroline Eden, The Times Literary Supplement

"Feisty and exhilarating . . . Horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir." --Kirkus Reviews

"Palmer writes with grace, giving a measured, reflective account of the race she was unprepared for but still won, the rivalries and partnerships that sprung up between the competitors, and the ruggedly lovely, lonely landscape she traversed. An engaging profile of humans and horses, and a searing, soulful examination of endurance." --Booklist

"Few readers are more horse-crazy than teens, and Prior-Palmer's youthful perspective will speak to them." --Booklist (YA)

"A fresh, irreverent voice and a quick wit . . . It's a story worthy of the best adventure writers, and Prior-Palmer does not disappoint. An appealing account that will capture the imagination of a wide audience, including young adults. Readers who enjoyed Cheryl Strayed's Wild and James Campbell's Braving It will want to join Prior-Palmer on her once-in-a-lifetime trek." --Library Journal

"Rough Magic is one of the best books we read this year." --InsideHook

"Prior-Palmer's style is a fascinating mix of pep and poignancy. A really terrific story by a spirited new voice." --Sara Baume, author of A Line Made by Walking

"Rough Magic is the most entertaining memoir I've read in years. It's thrilling, hilarious, unexpected, and ultimately breathtaking. I loved every minute of this wild ride." --Abby Geni, author of The Wildlands and the award-winning The Lightkeepers

"This debut memoir is a brilliant literary exploration of loneliness and an exhilarating, funny, soulful account of how one young woman, against all odds, won a truly extraordinary race." --Kristen Radtke, author of Imagine Wanting Only This

"As fast-paced as the swiftest Mongolian race horse, Lara's searingly honest account of her astonishing rise from hopeless underdog to Mongol Derby Champion leaves grit in your teeth and dust in your hair. I laughed, I cried and I felt every bruise. I was riveted til the last word and left with lasting daydreams of Mongolian horizons."--Felicity Aston, author of Alone in Antarctica, The First Woman To See Solo Across the Southern Ice

"Lara Prior-Palmer's writing collapses geological time into the velocity of the present instant, near and distant histories thrumming in the thoughts that beat between hoof-falls. In Rough Magic she possesses Annie Dillard's brilliance for noticing, laced with a wild and glistering humor. If an intellect can be said to be elemental, this is it." --Josephine Rowe, author of A Loving, Faithful Animal

"Rough Magic brims with urgency, wit, and insight. Lara Prior-Palmer is an author to remember, and she's written a book that wild horses couldn't drag me away from." --Lily Brooks-Dalton, author of Motorcycles I've Loved

"Rough Magic is so charming, weird, and absorbing. I was fascinated by the race, and the utterly unique Prior-Palmer herself." --Sofija Stefanovic, author of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia