Though the setting differs wildly from contemporary Bon Temps, Louisiana, her easy prose and quick-witted characters, especially protagonist Lizbeth “Gunnie” Rose, are a familiar comfort in an alternate history Western that racks up a body count to rival Robert Rodriguez’s Desperado.
In Lizbeth’s world, the United States of America doesn’t exist as we know it. After the assassination of President Roosevelt just before he was sworn into office, the depressed and destabilized US was broken into several new countries, some strong states serving as the lynchpin in their own unions, some weaker ones absorbed by other foreign nations. Tsar Nicholas II escaped Russia and fled to California to establish the Holy Russian Empire, the only country where magic is openly practiced, and even revered. As the novel opens, his sickly son Alexei rules, though the bloodline is in peril—figuratively, thanks to a lack of legitimate male heirs, and literally, in the form of a deadly disease.
Meanwhile, Lizbeth Rose lives a rough life in Texoma as a gun for hire. At 19, she’s an independent woman, making a go of it as part of crew of other gunnies. Then she gets a job that goes very badly, very quickly. Lizbeth’s entire gang is killed trying to guard a family making a dangerous desert crossing through bandit territory to resettle in New America, leaving her alone and desperate for work. Which is when she meets the two gregori wizards from the Empire, come to town to hire someone just like her to track down a missing person.
Lizbeth hates the gregori, and might have had a hand in killing the person they’re looking for, but her interest is piqued, and she’s desperate, so she takes the job: finding a full-blooded relative of a deceased individual. Lizbeth wants to know what makes this particular bloodline so important; she may have a personal interest in the hunt, one she’s unwilling to reveal to her new employers.
Gunnie Rose is another compelling Charlaine Harris protagonist. She is no wilting flower. She’s self-possessed. I liked her instantly, from the moment she cut off her long black ringlets because her boyfriend liked them too much: “I’d figured since Tarken spent so long running his fingers through my hair … he’d better pay more attention to the girl whose scalp it grew on.” That’s my girl. And she knows her way around a gun, too. The opening of the novel closely follows the perilous journey across the desert that leaves her friends dead, and it serves to highlight her strength of character, —both her physicality and her emotional fortitude. She sees the job through, even when the odds are long and her crew is gone.
Lizbeth’s travels with the grigori, Paulina Coopersmith and Ilya “Eli” Savarov, prove to be even more dangerous, as their secret mission is opposed by powerful and unknown enemies who try to kill them at every turn. Every page offers the potential for ambush and no one can be trusted, as Harris amps up the tension on the way to a final, explosive showdown that pits magic against good old-fashioned gunplay.
An Easy Death offers up a world worth exploring and a character you’ll want to explore it with. Fans of Elizabeth Bear’s Karen Memory, meet another kick-ass woman with a wild, western tale to tell.