Title: The Serpent in Heaven
Series: Gunnie Rose, #4
Author: Charlaine Harris
Publisher: Saga Press
Publication date: November 15, 2022
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Fantasy / speculative fiction
#1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author Charlaine Harris returns to her alternate history of the United States where magic is an acknowledged but despised power in this fourth installment of the Gunnie Rose series.
Felicia, Lizbeth Rose’s half-sister and a student at the Grigori Rasputin school in San Diego—capital of the Holy Russian Empire—is caught between her own secrets and powerful family struggles. As a granddaughter of Rasputin, she provides an essential service to the hemophiliac Tsar Alexei, providing him the blood transfusions that keep him alive. Felicia is treated like a nonentity at the bedside of the tsar, and at the school she’s seen as a charity case with no magical ability. But when Felicia is snatched outside the school, the facts of her heritage begin to surface. Felicia turns out to be far more than the Russian-Mexican Lizbeth rescued. As Felicia’s history unravels and her true abilities become known, she becomes under attack from all directions. Only her courage will keep her alive.
Ah, I love this series, and book #4 is a great addition to the ongoing story! Because I’ve basically read them all in a row, I didn’t bother reading the synopsis before starting The Serpent in Heaven… and was very startled to realize that we’d shifted main character and point of view!
In the first three books in the Gunnie Rose series, all events have been narrated by (and centered around)… well… Gunnie Rose herself. Lizbeth Rose, a sharpshooter/gunslinger from the nation of Texoma, whose skill with guns keeps her and her crew safe and protected, has been the focal point of the series, even as we meet her network of friends, allies, and (in book #1) her previously unknown half-sister Felicia.
The 3rd book ends with Lizbeth happily married and relatively safe with her beloved Eli back in Texoma, after a dangerous rescue mission in the Holy Russian Empire (our California and Oregon), so I suppose it shouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see the focus shift elsewhere. Let Lizbeth have a little downtime!
In this 4th book, Lizbeth’s younger sister Felicia takes center stage. Felicia has always been something of a question mark. When we first meet her, she appears to be about age 10 or 11, raised in poverty in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico by an unreliable father — a Russian grigori (magician) barely getting by, with a very shady past, who also happens to be Lizbeth’s father. When Lizbeth discovers Felicia, she’s on her own and unprotected, and Lizbeth decides to see her safely sheltered in San Diego, where she can get an education at the grigori school… and also fulfill her destiny as a blood donor for the ailing Tsar.
What’s been hinted at, but finally becomes clear here, is that Felicia has a store of great magical power herself, and that she’s also quite a few years older than she appeared to be. With her father’s influence now gone, the anti-aging spells he’d placed on her have dissipated, and Felicia has quickly grown into the size and appearance of her true age, fifteen.
Felicia also becomes the subject of a botched kidnapping plot, and soon learns that her mother was the descendant of a powerful magical family in Mexico, who now want Felicia back. What follows is a dangerous scheme to gain control of Felicia, involving raids on the school and other types of interference and infiltration. Meanwhile, the school and the city are ravaged by the Spanish influenza, and Felicia finds herself needing to draw on her strange new powers in order to survive and protect the people she cares about.
As the story unfolds, Felicia really blossoms as a lead character, and her alliance with the older, powerful grigori Felix as well as her puppy-love first romance with Peter give her interesting characters to bounce off of (and get into trouble with). The involvement of her maternal family adds a huge element of threat and conspiracy, and the action is quite good and unrelenting.
While the main plot threads are mostly tied up by the end of the book, there are many open questions still to be resolved. I really enjoyed Felicia as the main character, although I missed spending time with Lizbeth and Eli and can’t wait to see them back in action.
The series continues with book #5, All the Dead Shall Weep, to be published in September. At this point, I’m totally invested and can’t wait for more (so I may need to read the ARC for #5 early, rather than waiting until the publication date is a little closer).
I’m so glad I was introduced to this terrific series thanks to my book group. Highly recommended!