Publisher: Owl Hollow Press
Number of Pages: 218
Publishing: May, 2023
Source: Author in exchange for an honest review
Opening lines: "Hunting monsters in real life wasn't anything like in movies or books."
This is the synopsis for the second book in the Del Toro Tales: "For four hundred years, generations of the Family Del Toro and their battle-savvy warhorses have secretly guarded their corner of Colorado from all things creepy. But when a menacing woman with some wicked witch powers shows up at the Del Toro ranch and demands the return of the Red Casket, twelve-year-old Matt Del Toro must team up with his best friend Perry—along with the warhorses Rigo and Isabel—to out-wit, out-ride, and out-fight one Viking-size sorceress." I think it provides a nice introduction to the series and where things left off in book#2. So yeah there are talking warhorses and a family that guards Colorado against not only a witch but these creatures called Skinners, something akin to a "freshly skinned animal carcass." Creepy right?
Mace and Hammer continues on from there. Matt, his dad and brother Ben have been hunting Skinners for over a month, despite not even knowing whether any more are lingering about. Both Matt and his horse, Rigo are becoming slightly bored. You can't even use a cell phone in such a rural area. Then they spot fresh tracks leading toward Huerfano and Perry's home, therefore they quickly ride out to try and cut off whatever is heading toward town. At the same time, they need to stay ever vigilant because the bruja, Hester Lemprey is still out there too. They arrive only to find whatever was out there gone. Since the Skinners seem to be taken care of, Matt's dad decides that this is the perfect opportunity for the family to ride to el Camino del Cazador, take a little pilgrimage to relive a part of their family history and to make a journey to honor an old friend. Even better, Matt's best friend, Perry gets permission from her mom to come along on the historic trip.
The family begins to plan for their travel, gathering supplies and figuring out the rest stops including where all the watering holes are for the horses. Then suddenly out of nowhere an Andalusian warhorse appears on the property named Dominic. More mysteriously, he is the half-brother of El Cid, one of their horses who previously died. Dominic is a free fighter, or riderless warhorse that fights beside his footman, and he offers to help guide them through the el Camino del Cazador to the Navarres ranch. Soon the group is traveling across the dusty plains dealing with rockslides, death defying ascents, lighting storms and a new threat, tommyknockers, a human-hating subterranean race. When tragedy hits and Matt gets separated from the rest of the party, he will have to use his training, ingenuity and an unexpected resource to reunite himself with his family.
Family dynamics are the core of this story, and that includes the relationship between human and their horse. Everyone has a part to play and Matt and his dad acknowledge that they wouldn't be able to survive without their warhorses help. They are a part of their extended family, not a companion or pet. Not only do they appreciate their strength, but their bravery to protect them from harms way, it is what makes the bond or connection that they share so very special. I've always enjoyed Matt's character. He's new to the whole fighting monsters, but makes up for whatever skill he lacks in enthusiasm and ingenuity. He's not overly confident, and I respect that he is also very cautious and even introspective. I also liked how his dad showed Matt a side he'd never seen before, one of also being afraid and unsure of himself. Javier and Matt's relationship is built on a mutual trust and caring. Javier never belittles Matt for the mistakes that he made, and always has his interests first. Because Matt respects his dad so much, it was nice for him to see that they have a lot in common too. Which is great because Matt has been knocking himself over the decision that he made in the previous book to hand over an important object to Hester Lemprey.
Finally there's the journey, which despite encountering many dangerous situations, including these super destructive worms, is one of reflection. Moments around the campfire telling stories about El Cid, which were beautiful by the way. Moments to laugh and heal from his loss, and to find happiness in thoughts about their previous adventures together. While there wasn't as many battles in this story, I quite enjoyed the slower pace. Watching Matt expanding his skills and the various choices he made. Following along with them as they ride across the plains and through the canyons of Colorado. Getting to know the history of tommyknockers and seeing the hints of a war to come, or a gathering of forces. And reading the humorous lines, which had me giggling. The banter between Matt and Rigo and among the warhorses is quite amusing. Overall, this was a wonderful sequel and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.
**A huge thank you to Darby for the E-ARC in exchange for an honest review**