Book Review: An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1) by Charlaine Harris

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
Source: Library

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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 of Gunnie Rose

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!

A Longer Fall – #2 in the Gunnie Rose series

Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)

What can I say about the 13th book in a series? For those who’ve spent the past several years on Mars, what you need to know is that Dead Ever After is the final book in the best-selling Sookie Stackhouse series (The Southern Vampire Mysteries) by Charlaine Harris. Set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana, the series focuses on our heroine Sookie, a telepathic waitress whose family, friendships, and love interests form the core of these books, along with a whole host of supernatural creatures.

Over the course of 13 books, we’ve seen Sookie fall in and out of love, discover her own origins and powers, experience pain and betrayal… and act like a perfect Southern hostess while always displaying a sunny smile and a truly great tan. Sookie can “hear” other people’s thoughts with ease, and it’s enough to make a girl kind of crazy. She’s not the only oddball in town: Bon Temps and environs are also full of vampires, werewolves, shapeshifters, fairies, witches, and demons, to name but a few of the “supes” hanging around.

Are you with me so far? Let’s face it: No newbie is going to start with Dead Ever After — or if they did, they wouldn’t last more than a page or two. Dead After Ever is strictly for fans, the ones who’ve stuck by the author and her girl Sookie through all the ups and downs and just NEED to know how it all works out.

Okay, so Dead Ever After — worth reading? At the risk of offending the faithful, here’s what I think:

This 13th Sookie novel is, over all, a bland and unengaging outing — but in that sense, it’s not unlike the last several books in the series. Listen, I loved these books when I first started reading them. Some were incredible (Book 4! Hello! Shower scene? *blush*), some were dramatic and suspenseful (ooh, that 7th book!), but past 8 or 9, it’s been a steady downhill run.

In #13, Sookie is embroiled in a murder mystery (so what else is new?), but mostly she’s trying to sort out her tumultuous love life. Frankly, the murder mystery isn’t terribly interesting or compelling. Sookie is accused of a murder, but of course we know that she’s innocent. The bad guys in this book are familiar figures from earlier in the series — but to be honest, they’re from so long ago that I didn’t have much of a reaction when they showed up, and the mystery itself isn’t particularly mysterious at all. Instead, it just feels like an excuse to pad this book and give it a plot.

Without the murder mystery, what’s left? Well, all of Sookie’s past lovers show up at one point or another — it’s like a parade of ex-boyfriends. None of them contribute a whole lot to the story, other than giving Sookie an excuse to ruminate on what she doesn’t want out of life and in a relationship. The ultimate question to be resolved at the end of this series is which of the many men in her life will be “the one” for Sookie — but if you read book 12, Charlaine Harris pretty much already spelled that out.

So for me, Dead Ever After reads like one long epilogue — and really, the relationship stuff could have been a final chapter in the previous book, wrapping it all up, and we’d have ended in the same place. Sookie figures out what — and whom — she wants, parts ways with the one she doesn’t end up with, and that’s pretty much it. I’m not naming names (far be it from me to include spoilers here), but anyone who’s been paying attention throughout the series will know who I mean.

That’s the plot. Meanwhile, the writing in this book includes all the elements that drive me bat-&*^% crazy throughout this series. And it feels like it’s just gotten worse and worse with each book. Really, how much do we need to know about Sookie’s beauty regimen, her clothing choices, her kitchen habits, and where she shops? Is this a novel or her appointment book?

A few examples (and maybe you’ll want to bang your head against the nearest wall too):

Her makeup was minimal. She was lovely as always, yet I couldn’t help but notice she’d let her eyebrows stray all over. Motherhood could sure wreak havoc on a woman’s grooming.

Oh, honey. Please. Real mothers of babies don’t even brush their hair, much less worry about their eyebrows.

I heated up a DiGiorno’s that night, since no one would deliver out on Hummingbird Road… I tried to fold the cardboard disk that had been under the pizza. Those things are hell to get into kitchen garbage bags, aren’t they?

And another day:

I showered and put on my makeup and my summer work uniform — Merlotte’s T-shirt, black shorts, and New Balance walking shoes — and got in the car to drive to work. I felt much better now that I was following my normal routine.

But best of all was the single page where Sookie SHAVES HER LEGS TWICE:

Back in my own bathroom later that afternoon, I took my own sweet time soaking in a hot tub. My favorite bath oil scented the air pleasantly as I shaved my legs.

And four paragraphs later (and yes, it’s the same afternoon):

I shaved my legs and curled my hair and got my cowboy boots out of the closet.

But wait, don’t you want to know about the rest of her outfit?

I’d had them for years [the cowboy boots], and since I wasn’t an actual cowgirl, they were still in really good shape. Black and white with red roses and green vines: I was proud every time I looked at them. I could go fundamental cowgirl with tight jeans and a sleeveless shirt, or I could go flirty dance hall with a full short skirt and an off-the-shoulder blouse. Hmmm.

Sorry, I’m not going to ruin the surprise and tell you what she ended up wearing. Guess you’ll have to read the book yourself to find out.

Some book series, like some of Sookie’s houseguests, don’t know when it’s time to say good-bye. Sadly, this series has petered out over the course of thirteen books instead of ending strongly and defiantly several books ago, as it should have. The story of Sookie and her many friends, neighbors, and lovers ran out of anything new to say a few volumes ago, and it’s been mostly filler (plus makeup, hair, and shopping lists!) ever since.

So this is the way Sookie’s story ends: Not with a bang, but with a whimper. Or a shoulder shrug.

I read Dead Ever After. It was a quick read, but nothing really happened worth remembering. As I said, I think I would have preferred a solid, happily-ever-after epilogue at the end of book #12. Of course, loyal Sookie readers will want to read this one too for the sake of completion. But as a friend said to me, “I feel like I could skip it if you’d just tell me who she ends up with.” Listen, you really want to know? Let’s talk…