City of Gold

Written by Will Hobbs
Review by Sarah Hendess

In 1900, fifteen-year-old Owen Hollowell witnesses the theft of his family’s mules. Newly arrived in Colorado after the death of Owen’s father, the family faces financial ruin without the mules to plow the soil of their new farm. Owen follows the rustler’s trail to Telluride, the “City of Gold,” where his nine-year-old brother, Till, arrives on the train to assist him. The boys have no luck gaining the assistance of the local marshal until they identify the thief as one of Butch Cassidy’s notorious Wild Bunch. Together, the trio ventures into the canyons of Utah, hunting down the Wild Bunch’s hideout, Robbers Roost.

Hobbs’s first book in seven years is a welcome return. In his usual fashion, he’s crafted three-dimensional characters and set them in an exciting, rugged setting. Till, especially, is a delight, and Hobbs adds an interesting wrinkle by making the Hollowells Quakers and, therefore, opposed to violence in a place and time rife with it. And few authors can match Hobbs’s rich imagery of the American West.

The book stumbles over pacing problems in a few places, particularly when Hobbs provides exposition via awkward dialogue rather than a protagonist’s flashback. It’s unlikely, however, that the typical middle-grade reader will notice—they’ll be too caught up in Owen and Till’s adventure. Adults, too, will likely delight in this sprightly Western.

This isn’t quite Hobbs at his best, but it’s close.