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Year of the Horse: A Novel Hardcover – October 15, 2009

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Hardcover (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590202732
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590202739
  • Product Dimensions: 1.1 x 5.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,799,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From 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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From School Library Journal

Grade 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Justin was born in Boise, Idaho in 1974. He graduated from Boise State University with a degree in philosophy, and from Columbia University with an MFA in fiction. Justin can also be found at, and loves to hear from interesting readers.
While at Columbia, Justin was first introduced to Uruk, a prehistoric hunter from the jungles of sub-Saharan Africa, and the hero of his first novel, "Slaves of the Shinar." Nisi Shawl, in the Seattle Times, wrote the following about the book: "With a driving plot and an excellent eye for living, breathing, tactile detail, author Allen brings immediacy to this modern version of the Gilgamesh legend while keeping it in context with the rest of the not-necessarily-white world of thousands of years ago."
Building on that success, Justin wrote "Year of the Horse," an all-ages fantasy cowboy-western slated for publication in October 2009. "Year of the Horse" tells the story of sixteen-year-old Yen Tzu-lu, the child of Chinese immigrants and one of a band of treasure hunters brought together from every corner of the continent to recapture a stolen gold mine. Leading Tzu-Lu and his gang is the gunslinger Jack Straw, a figure who is as much legend as reality, as much magic as lead. Ultimately, this band of outsiders finds it must learn to live together, trust and care for one another. If they make it across a wild continent, they'll be rich; if they don't, they'll surely be dead.
Justin is also an active dancer, having performed with such companies as Dances Patrelle, Eidolon Ballet, and Idaho Dance Theatre. In 2009, his work in writing and dance came together in the form of a new ballet, "Murder at the Masque: The Casebook of Edgar Allan Poe," with choreography by Francis Patrelle, music by Patrick Soluri, and all based upon an original story by Justin Allen.
He is roughly six feet tall, weighs somewhere around 185 pounds (often more, to his chagrin), has dark-brown hair and eyes, and suffers from near-sightedness, motion-sickness, and a tendency to get angry at airport personnel. His wife, Day Mitchell, a licensed master social worker, is trying to help him overcome this last item, but finds the going hard.

Customer Reviews

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This the second book I have read by this author.
Andrew B. Schoedinger
I definitely recommend this book for people of all ages that want an exciting book full of wonderful characters and adventures.
C. Neil
This novel is a wonderful, original take on the characters of the old West.
A fan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Reader on November 2, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a terrific book. Justin Allen's Year of the Horse is a fantasy set in the old west. It is also a coming-of-age story and a story about the meaning of America. That sounds like an awful lot to have in one book, especially one that is not especially long, but it all works out in a way that's subtle and enjoyable. The book starts out at a leisurely pace, but gives just enough hints and clues to keep the reader interested. The rich descriptions of the setting and the characters also help make the read enjoyable. Several of the characters start out almost as stereotypes, or better, as set figures, but fill in throughout the book. This works well, as it is much like our experience in real life, where we often meet people and have preconceived expectations about what they will be like based on immediately apparent features, and only learn what they are like as life progresses. This sort of verisimilitude was a great strength of the book.

The book is a story of the meaning of America, but not as it has ever really existed. Rather, it is a story of the idea of America. This could have been a disaster, either being maudlin or jingoistic, but Allen pulls it off with grace, in a way that lets the idea develop through the story rather than making it explicit or beating up the reader with the moral. Allen does this through two main devices. First, it will soon be clear to the reader who knows anything of geography that the story doesn't take place in the world quite as we know it. The way this is done helps make the point in a subtle and interesting way. Secondly, Allen draws on and re-tells many stories from America, from our myths, we might say. Not every bit of this is as successful as every other, but over-all the effect is very satisfying.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By B. Capossere TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Justin Allen's Year of the Horse is one of the more original fantasy amalgamations I've come across--a mix of fantasy, historical western, and coming-of-age boys' adventure tale peppered with some Devil and Daniel Webster slash Washington Irving slash Mark Twain slash Zane Grey and topped off by a heaping of multi-culturalism. Does it all work? Not in all places, but certainly often enough to keep the reader enjoyably engaged.
The story is told from the perspective of Yen-Tzu-lu (mostly known as Lu), a young Chinese boy living in his Grandfather K'Ung's store in Chinatown St. Frances with his mother and alchemist grandfather. Into the store walks the famous and mysterious gunslinger Jack Straw, who shockingly seems to know Lu's grandfather. Next thing he knows, Lu is the "explosives expert" of a team led by Jack and including Chino (a pistol-toting Californian/Mexican), Henry (a free Black), Jack MacLemore (an ex-Confederate), and his daughter Sadie (a buckskin wearing young woman). They're all heading to the wild west through the dangerous Hell Mouth and deadly Lake of Fire, past mountains and deserts, predators and Indians, polygamists and ghost-riders, all the way to Silver City, where MacLemore hopes to reclaim a pile of hidden gold and gain some vengeance on the mysterious Yankee bandito who stole his house and mine and killed his wife and young son.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By TeensReadToo on March 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover
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.

Reviewed by: Theresa L. Stowell
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