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

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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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.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The Overlook Press (October 15, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590202732
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590202739
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 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: #3,187,172 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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Format: Hardcover
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.
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