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Year of the Horse

Average Rating 4.5
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  • Posted March 10, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Reviewed by Theresa L. Stowell for

    Justin Allen sends young Yen Tzu-lu, also known as Lu, on a Wild West adventure in this humorous twist on the old-fashioned western story.

    Lu is the fourteen-year-old son of Chinese immigrants who lives with his intimidating mother and mysterious grandfather in the apartment above their general store. Lu's humdrum life undergoes a drastic change when larger-than-life hero Jack Straw comes to visit his grandfather.

    Lu is surprised enough to find out that his grandfather knows Jack Straw, but when he is told that he is going on a journey with Straw, Lu is thrust into an adventure that surpasses anything he could imagine.

    When Jack Straw shows up to take Lu away, Lu finds out he is to be the explosions expert on a quest to reclaim the treasure mine of John MacLemore and his daughter, Sadie. Considering the minor fact that Lu has never been taught to handle or set explosives, he begins to wonder if he has been brought along to just do the grunt work for the motley crew of adventurers, which includes an African-American named Henry, a Hispanic named Chino, Jack Straw, and the MacLemores.

    Along the way, however, he learns a number of handy skills, like driving a wagon, cooking a camp meal, riding a horse, and shooting (two bullets a day). He also learns that the people he is traveling with are not exactly what they seem to be.

    Allen includes a number of amusing allusions (some not so subtle) to classic writers such as Mark Twain, Washington Irving, and Larry McMurtry. Further, he adds a fantasy element that takes the novel beyond the reader's wildest expectations.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 7, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    The American West, now with a fully representational cast!

    Lu, the child of Chinese immigrants; Henry, first a slave then a Union soldier and now free; Chino, once just a Californian and now a Mexican with no homeland; and of course Jack Straw, also a former Union soldier and now a privateer of sorts; are all hired by John MacLemore, former Confederate loyalist, and his daughter Sadie to get their gold mine and homestead back from the man who murdered Sadie's mother. They travel across mountains, canyons, plains, and deserts. They also deal with Mormons (one of whom really wants to make Sadie one of his wives), dwindling supplies (Oregon Trail style), fatal weather, Confederate soldiers, many forms of racism, and, of course, actual demons.

    That's right. This is a Western/fantasy, and as such, it's pretty unique.

    I'll be honest, the first half, almost pure Western, was a bit slow for me. I liked getting to know the large cast of characters and found their trials pretty interesting, but I wasn't truly hooked until the fantasy set in. When it did, I felt the need to devour the second half of the book to find out what would happen to everyone. At the expense of my beauty sleep. The forgotten journal of a man no one remembers that is covered with Lu's grandfather's Chinese writing, ghost-riders that pretend to be shooting stars, were-coyotes in the middle of an unlivable desert. And none of that even begins to encompass what Lu, et al. are really up against. It's good stuff. I highly recommend this book for fantasy readers who are sick of paranormal romances taking up all of the magic in young adult lit right now and for adventure readings who might be willing to let the truth stretch a little. Neither group will regret the small step outside of their comfort zones.

    Now on to the serious stuff. One of the greatest things about this book is the large cast of multicultural characters. We are also given main characters that hail from both sides of the recently ended Civil War, in addition to soldiers in saloons with differing loyalties. This book does NOT use the /fantasy part of its description to make all of these people live together harmoniously.From the author's note:

    "Not all of the characters in this book are to be admired, however. History, as it turns out, is littered with men and women (and boys and girls!) possessed of vile, even shocking beliefs, language and manners. As your narrator I will admit having felt tempted to censor the more disturbing bits of racism from the nineteenth century folk that people these tales. But as fact is my watch-word, I have resisted that temptation." p.7

    Allen doesn't remove the racism from the story. What Allen does, instead of removing the racism from the book, is take all of these characters beyond their stereotypes for the readers. Yes, Lu starts out as the explosion expert because, genetically, he must know how it's done, right? He is Chinese, after all. But then we also see Jack teaching Lu how to blow up a boulder early on in the trip. All of the other characters similarly move beyond their stereotypes: the rich Confederate and his wild-child daughter, the religious former slave and the nature-conscious Mexican, a variety of mystic and/or violent American Indians and the wife-hunting Mormons. It's all very Breakfast Club, except without the all-white cast.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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