Booklist Reviews 2015 April #2
*Starred Review* Born a slave in South Carolina, and none too happy with the state when he's freed, big John Ware walks to Texas. After many colorful adventures and little food, he's taken in by a white family, the Coles, near Fort Worth. The Coles are Union sympathizers who see past John's skin color and make him into a fine horseman. He settles in for 10 years of relative contentment before joining Emmet Cole's trail drive to Ogallala, Nebraska. All along his journey, John is confronted with racial intolerance, but there are zones in which it never appears: Dodge City, for instance, where the only prejudice is whether or not you have money. (In a nod to the traditional western, Gallaher uses the Dodge City interlude for clever characterizations of Doc Holliday and Big Nose Kate.) In Dodge, Cole is killed, and when John takes over the drive, the reader knows he has come into his own. Still, there are many years of drifting, with his good friend Duffy at his side, before John joins a trail drive to Alberta. With his sometimes-heroic deeds (the killing of a gigantic wolf), his honorable dealings with everyone, and his legendary horsemanship, John wins the day even in Calgary, a bastion of race hatred rivaling South Carolina. In the end, in this historical novel based on real-life people, Ware heads his own family on his own ranch. Gallaher's novel is easily compared to Joe R. Lansdale's wonderful Paradise Sky (2015), though Ware is a far gentler character than Nat Love, and Gallaher avoids turning him into a myth. He draws much of his material from a 1960 biography, John Ware's Cow Country, by Grant MacEwan, and his fictional departures are never flamboyant or satirical, but, rather, restrained. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.