2 out of 4 stars
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An Englishman and the son of a Chinese mafia leader walk into a bar. It sounds like the beginning of a joke, and back in the late 1800s in the American Wild West, seeing Chester Garden (the aforementioned Englishman) and Sky Blue (whose real name is Zhang Tian-Shu) together would seem like a mistake. But Chester and Sky, both skilled with their fists and their guns, have been steadfast friends and business partners ever since they met. When a shared venture in gold prospecting failed, the two found their calling as gunslingers. “I’m paid to do what I like to call balancing things out,” Chester said to describe their new undertaking. “We endeavor to make things level.” And hence, The Levellers were born.
John Worsley Simpson’s The Levellers: A Classic Western Adventure plays like an episodic romp through the Wild West. There are three distinct story arcs — the duo’s first meeting and short-lived stint as gold prospectors; their exploits in Dodge City, Kansas, where they “levelled” the field between a ranch owner and a devious businessman; and finally, a job gone wrong in San Francisco, where one of the pair had to rescue the other from peril. It’s a lawless time, and life isn’t kind to immigrants, especially to people of color like Sky. Yet it’s also a time of immense opportunities, which Chester and Sky fully embrace while dealing time and again with corruption, discrimination, and prejudice.
Bromance might be a fairly recent term, but it’s an apt description of the dynamics between Chester and Sky. Through their odd tandem, the theme of accepting others is carried throughout the book, preaching a timeless lesson on tolerance that’s still very relevant in today’s world. This isn’t historical fiction per se, but the narrative makes good use of events such as the Black Hills Gold Rush and the boom of rail transport to add texture to the story.
The unconventional pairing of Chester and Sky aside, The Levellers is pretty much a straightforward Western story. There’s plenty of gunslinging action, described in a vivid language peppered with imageries of fast-paced horse chases, shoot-outs, and hand-to-hand combats (Chester is a good fighter, while Sky is an expert in kung fu). Readers looking for an action-packed story wouldn’t go wrong with this book. The violence is contextually appropriate, profanity is at a minimum, and although Chester is unabashedly a ladies’ man, his sexual liaisons are merely implied, not shown.
An unfortunate pitfall of the book, however, is the rushed quality of the ending. After a tense build-up, there was barely any falling action to bridge the gap between the climax and the concluding scenes. The narrative’s episodic quality is partly to blame for this, as the book feels more like a collection of three short stories rather than one continuous novel. Another issue is the presence of editing problems like misplaced quotation marks, misspelled words, and spelling inconsistencies (e.g., both “levelers” and “levellers” appear in the text). While not egregious, there were enough errors to suggest that the book wasn’t professionally edited.
The Levellers gets a rating of 2 out of 4 stars. Though my rating is closer to 2.75, the issues were a little too distracting to justify rounding it up to 3 stars. Regardless, it’s a short book that would surely entertain readers with a fondness for Western stories.
The Levellers: A Classic Western Adventure
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