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.