Year of the Horse

( 5 )


A thrill-ride adventure novel capturing the adventure, mystery, legend, and lore of America

Year of the Horse is literary fantasy at its very best-a novel that delves into our myths, legends, hopes, and fears; a coming-of-age fable set in our fondly remembered (if often fictional) past-an adventure more than capable of setting your hair on end.

Year of the Horse tells the story of Yen Tzu-lu, a child of Chinese immigrants unwillingly pressed ...

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Year of the Horse: A Novel

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A thrill-ride adventure novel capturing the adventure, mystery, legend, and lore of America

Year of the Horse is literary fantasy at its very best-a novel that delves into our myths, legends, hopes, and fears; a coming-of-age fable set in our fondly remembered (if often fictional) past-an adventure more than capable of setting your hair on end.

Year of the Horse tells the story of Yen Tzu-lu, a child of Chinese immigrants unwillingly pressed into service by a gang of roughnecks bent on stealing a gold mine from a shadowy villain deep in the western wilderness. With Tzu-lu as our guide, we experience a landscape of legend, stand toe-to-toe with those larger-than- life heroes and villains of our shared American mythos, and learn the inescapable facts that have both enriched and plagued our nation from its inception.

Resonating with echoes of Mark Twain, Larry McMurtry, and J. K. Rowling, this is a book of fabulous adventure and deep resonance. Allen gives readers a picture of how America sees itself, and in so doing he offers up both a heroic vision of the past and hope for the future.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Allen, author of the historical fantasy Slaves of the Shinar, plots a supernatural wild west adventure in his sophomore outing that should hold appeal for younger readers. Chinese-American teenager Tzu-lu finds his life upended when his grandparents send him on an expedition west with famous gunslinger Jack Straw and his rag-tag crew of mercenaries. Exploring anew the tropes of the cowboy western—Indians, polygamous cultists, “Ghost Riders” and the perils of the open desert—Allen follows the gang to Silver City, the very edge of settled America, to reclaim a treasure stolen by a mysterious man known as “the Yankee,” and perhaps illuminate the fate of Tzu-lu's dead father. With a few playful nods to Washington Irving, Allen mixes western and fantasy into a high adventure coming-of-age, keeping his world's more outré elements grounded with a surfeit of dead-on historical details. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—A Western adventure swollen with minor incidents and bits of devilish sorcery occasionally spliced in, this novel lacks cohesion, historical imagination, or fantasy flair. Fictionalized place-names take readers uncertainly (sans map) from the Mississippi to the Pacific; the style nods faintly to Twain and McMurtry. Detail is often irrelevant; atmosphere is spotty (e.g., many cigarettes are smoked, none rolled). Gratuitous gore and firearms abound, but dramatic action is absent for the first 100 pages, sparse thereafter. Although the crew is nominally multiethnic, little distinguishes Hispanic, black, or Asian characters aside from their names. No one is very bright or has an interior life. The 15-year-old ostensibly Chinese hero and the 16-year-old unromantic heroine (whose rough speech is oddly unlike the polished diction of the Southern-gentleman father who raised her) seem about 11. A legendary white gunslinger/shapeshifter implausibly speaks "Indian," Chinese, and horse. Post-Civil War Yankees are prejudiced, arrogant, and aggressive, and "Saints" (Mormons?) are also vilified. A pile of gold provides a stilted, simplistic ending to an unheroic journey with a tacked-on patriotic message.—Patricia D. Lothrop, St. George's School, Newport, RI
Kirkus Reviews
Allen (Slaves of the Shinar, 2007) sends the 14-year-old son of Chinese immigrants into the western territories of post-Civil War America. When Yen Tzu-lu (nicknamed Lu) hears his grandfather speaking in Chinese with a mysterious white man named Jack Straw about some kind of mission, he never dreams that he will be plucked from his Mississippi River hometown to join it. Jack, a legendary gunslinger, is leading a group of roughnecks that includes a former slave who fought in the Union army, a Mexican outlaw and ex-Confederate John MacLemore and his daughter. They're out to reclaim a gold mine that MacLemore says belongs to him, and Lu has been hired as an explosives expert. (He's not, but only Jack knows that.) En route, the group encounters Native American tribesmen, bullying Union soldiers, supernatural ghost-riders and a dark figure who may just be the devil himself. The harsh realities of frontier travel are slightly mitigated for Lu by the pleasures of learning to ride horses and hunt. The author clearly has a great love for old-style boy's-adventure tales, but he doesn't allow the genre's tropes to keep him from trying new things. In particular, the multicultural cast of characters, while perhaps historically improbable, is refreshing, and Allen doesn't gloss over the widespread racial prejudices of the time. Best of all, however, he knows how to tell a cracking good story. Exciting, original update of the ripping-yarns formula.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590202739
  • Publisher: Overlook Press, The
  • Publication date: 10/15/2009
  • Pages: 352
  • Sales rank: 1,001,525
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.05 (d)

Meet the Author

Justin Allen received his MFA in fiction from Columbia University and his BA in philosophy from Boise State University. He is the author of the fantasy epic Slaves of the Shinar, also published by Overlook. He lives in New York City with his wife, Day.
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 5 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • 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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  • Posted November 1, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    New American Myths out of Old

    I was a big fan of Justin Allen's first book, Slaves of the Shinar, and enjoy this one for much the same reasons. This book has an enjoyable mixture of accurate historical detail and myth-making. The characters are lively and interesting, and though tension builds slowly through the first part of the book there's enough foreshadowing and detail to keep you interested. The book is officially marketed as a "young adult" novel and I expect that it would appeal to kids as young as 12 or so, but I'm enjoying it very much, despite not being a "young adult" myself. You don't have to have a special fondness for westerns to enjoy the book, but those who do would perhaps especially like it.

    In many ways Allen most reminds me of Neil Gaiman. There are significant differences in their writing styles but both have the ability to take old stories and myths and craft new and interesting tales from them. Allen did that in his first book and does so with even more success, I thought, here. In some important ways this is a book about America and what it means to be an American. This story is told by a highly creative re-telling of many classical American characters and stories, both literary and historical. The result could have been obnoxious but here turns out to be highly satisfying (though a few bits work less well than others as they seem a bit more forced.) Finding and exploring these references and creative re-tellings allows the book to be of significant interest to adults, too. Kids likely won't get many, perhaps most, of these references but I think they'll still enjoy the straight-forward adventure and fantasy elements, and discovering the references may well encourage them to look again at classic stories.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted March 10, 2010

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 8, 2011

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