An entertaining debut historical novel about Chinese immigrants fighting for love and equality in the old West.
In 1879, Mei-Yin’s father promised her hand in marriage to her first love, Hok-Ling. The price: three years’ wages from working on railroads in the “Gold Mountain”—the American West. By 1882, however, Hok-Ling still has not returned, and Mei Yin’s father gambles Mei-Yin away to a strange man at the mahjong table. Mei-Yin is devastated and runs away to search for Hok-Ling in America herself. Disguised as a man, Mei-Yin stows away on a ship bound for California, and she eventually locates Hok-Ling in Sandpoint, Idaho. But her dreams of a fairy-tale reunion are quickly shattered when Roger Langston, Sandpoint’s sheriff, is found murdered under the local Sand Creek Bridge, and the townspeople accuse Hok-Ling of murder. Mei-Yin believes all hope is lost—until she hears that recent Harvard graduate and attorney-in-training Jason McQuade will represent Hok-Ling in his trial. McQuade believes in equality for all men, and wants to make sure that Hok-Ling will receive a fair trial. However, after he meets and becomes enraptured with Mei-Yin, he finds himself torn between his desire to have her and his desire for justice. Wyatt’s novel offers an unusual look at the era of westward expansion and 19th-century American racism and xenophobia. The stories of the star-crossed lovers and the murder trial are suspenseful and compelling throughout, although, at times, the plot feels somewhat contrived; for example, readers may find it hard to believe that Mei-Yin, a poor woman unable to speak English, would be able to locate Hok-Ling in Idaho without assistance. In the end, however, what the novel lacks in plausibility it makes up with captivating storytelling, well-developed characters and a moving message about equal rights.
An enjoyable, informative historical drama.