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Smoky the Cowhorse

Smoky the Cowhorse

by Will James
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks
Trade Paperback, 336 pages
Current Retail Price: $8.99

Smoky the Cowhorse isn't born smoke-colored, and he isn't born a cowhorse. He's born a jet-black mustang alone on the range with his mother, untouched by human hands and untainted by civilization. The story of his adventures is one of the most authentic glimpses into the fading of the Wild West that we have, and sure to fascinate both horse-lovers and the indifferent.

Author Will James was himself a cowboy, first in Saskatchewan and later in Nevada, as well as a painter and writer. Smoky the Cowhorse is his most famous novel, tracing the life of Smoky from his early days as a wild horse, to his breaking-in by the cowboy Clint and his work as a cowhorse, to his years of abuse and slavery at the hands of horse thieves, his rodeo days, and finally to his reunion with Clint and recovery of his happy, healthy self.

If you like realism in literature, you'll love Smoky the Cowhorse. James knew what he was describing because he'd done and seen it all himself. He writes the way he and other cowboys must've talked; some readers may actually have trouble with the dialect at first, but once you get the hang of it there's a folk-poetry to James's prose that draws us into Smoky's world.

This isn't for very young readers. Smoky experiences abuse at the hands of the thieves who steal him from Clint, and James's matter of fact descriptions, while sympathetic and by no means gratuitous, can make even older readers uncomfortable. It's ironic that James himself got in trouble with the law at least twice in his own right—once in Canada, once in the U. S.—for cattle rustling, but after reading this book it's impossible to imagine him mistreating any animal.

It's also hard to imagine this book winning the Newbery Medal these days. James is an animal lover (particularly horses), but he's clearly no animal rights activist, and he's not squeamish about the brute realities of the life of a wild horse turned cowhorse turned show horse.This book is worth reading for the realism alone; James's quirky yet eloquent style makes it all the more enjoyable.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.

Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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Exodus Rating:
FLAWS: Fighting/violence
Summary: Written by a real cattle rustler and cowboy, this is to Western mustangs what Call of the Wild is to sled dogs.

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