Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Justin Allen's YEAR OF THE HORSE in The Denver Post

Justin Allen's Year of the Horse is reviewed in The Denver Post: "The Year of the Horse, a Western with a distinctly different twist, is told through the eyes of Tzu-Lu, a 14-year-old Chinese boy who is in his last term of school when the story opens. Unlike the other Chinese boys he knows, he has no interest in making beds or serving drinks on stern-wheelers. He simply wants to see the world. Opportunity beckons when the famous gunfighter Jack Straw enters his grandfather's shop. The two men talk. But not until the stranger is about to leave does Tzu-Lu learn that he has been pressed into service and will be going West with Straw to a world he never knew existed. On the riverboat, he meets one of Straw's friends and soon learns that what seems to be the man's son is actually a young woman, dressed not in fine woolens but in rough denim and buckskin. His next surprise comes when he is told that "you will soon dazzle your new employers with your blasting skills." As they trek West, crossing roaring rivers and balancing along narrow ledges, Tzu-Lu learns his employer is tracking down the bandits who killed his wife and son. But it is when Tzu-Lu sees a young woman whose nose has been hacked off at the roots "for some crime" that he comes to a better understanding of the kind of world he has entered. Along with the ever-present danger are wonders: a javelina, a strange variety of pig; tapping barrel cactus for water; and Tzu-Lu learns that a particular dark-green weed is actually "Saint's Tea," good for the liver. The harsh and unforgiving landscape reveals signs of earlier travelers, and they meet a family of Latter-day Saints. Finally reaching Silver City, they find, to their dismay, not the expected cozy village but a broken-down town where the chief entertainment is watching a hanging.

While Year of the Horse contains the basic elements of a traditional Western, it also succeeds in breaking the mold with the nicely drawn character of Tzu-Lu — and it entertains in the process."

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