Title: An Easy Death
Series: Gunnie Rose, #1
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: October 2, 2018
Length: 306 pages
Genre: Fantasy / speculative fiction
In a fractured United States, a new world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards. Lizbeth Rose has a wildly fearsome reputation but these wizards are desperate. Searching the small border towns near Mexico, they’re trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner believed to be a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin.
As the trio journey through an altered America—shattered into several countries after the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression—they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose has never failed a client, but this job may stretch her to her deadly limits.
In this fantasy novel set in an alternate version of the United States, the US as we know it no longer exists. Instead, after the assassination of FDR prior to his inauguration, the country has split apart. What was once California is now the Holy Russian Empire, ruled by Tsar Alexei after settlement by the exiled Romanovs. The East Coast states have largely sworn allegiance back to the UK and are now Britannia, the South is Dixie, and the southern border of Canada has moved further south, now enclosing the Great Lakes territories and then some.
Meanwhile, the action of An Easy Death takes place in Texoma (our current Texas, more or less) and Mexico. It’s a lawless area, or so it would seem. There’s a very old West vibe here, jarred somewhat by the existence of trucks and cars, electricity, and even refrigerators (for those lucky enough to afford them). People like main character Lizbeth Rose earn a living as “gunnies”, hired gunslingers who provide a variety of protection services. In Gunnie Rose’s case, she works as part of a crew who specialize in helping folks cross the dangerous territory from Texoma into New America, through mostly empty lands ravaged by bandits and wild, vicious dogs.
After a job gone bad, Lizbeth is the last person left from her former crew. Shocked and in mourning, the last thing she wants is to have a couple of Russian wizards, known as grigoris, show upon her doorstep. They want to hire her to help them find a man whose blood could be key to keeping their tsar alive… but they have many enemies working against them, who almost immediately begin trying to kill them and their gunnie.
As the trio sets out into Mexico, they face trial after trial — the dangers of deserts and wild lands, plus the even greater threat posed by assassins and deadly wizards. Lizbeth is continually forced to think fast and shoot faster, all the while questioning whether her clients have told her the whole truth and wondering who the true enemy really is.
An Easy Death (which is what gunnies say to one another when heading out on a job, rather than, you know “good luck” or “see ya”) is a fast-paced adventure in a world that occasionally made my head swim, especially in the early chapters. In fact, I originally tried the audiobook, and just couldn’t wrap my head around the setting and situation. Fortunately, the print edition comes with a handy map, and that helped me settle in and start truly appreciating the story.
The world-building here is so creative. Situating a Western adventure in the mid-20th century leads to some weird moments of cognitive dissonance — and add to that the existence of magic and wizards, and well, it’s utterly odd but also utterly absorbing.
I could possibly have done with a little bit less time spent chasing or being chased through the desert, but that’s a minor quibble. As the first book in a series, An Easy Death does the heavy lifting of establishing a world, its politics and factions, and the various types of people who live in it.
Lizbeth is a terrific character, hard as nails, always heavily armed and excellent with her firepower, and with hidden depths that I think we’ll see more of as the series moves forward. As of now, there are four published works in the series, with a fifth scheduled for release in fall of 2023. I’m not quite ready to commit to the entire series just yet, but I do know that I’ll be looking for book #2 on my next library visit! I will definitely want to continue onward with the series and see where it all goes!