Our library classified Laura Anne Gilman's Silver on the Road as science fiction. Make no mistake about it. This intense novel launches a compelling epic fantasy series, a series that could be called a fantasy western. In fact, this is book one in The Devil's West series. It's an atmospheric, wonderful beginning.
It's the early 1800's in an alternate North America, divided partially into The United States to the east, the Spanish Protectorate to the southwest, the Northern Wilds, and in between, the Territory, where the boss, the devil, has power. It's there that sixteen-year-old Izzy grew up in the saloon in Flood, indentured until the age of womanhood, sixteen. Now, she can make a choice as to what she wants to do with her life, and where she wants to go. Izzy wants power and respect, to play a role in the Territory. So, she signs a contract with the boss to become the Devil's Left Hand, Isobel nee Lacoya Tavora of Flood, The Devil's Hand. And, she becomes a rider in the Territory, with Gabriel Kasun as her mentor, a man who also makes a pact with the boss to turn the girl-child into a rider, and prepare her. The Devil's Hand; "It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."
Isobel and Gabriel travel the road in the Territory, riding horses with a pack mule carrying supplies. The mysterious Gabriel is careful to teach Isobel the rules of the road and the Territory; the dangers at crossroads, caution with strangers, to respect the natives, to run from magicians. But, neither are prepared to find entire settlements empty or people dead of disease. Magicians and demons are the least of their worries, as snakes and dreams warn them of the dangers ahead. Isobel will be forced to serve as The Devil's Hand in the Territory before she's ready.
Laura Anne Gilman has successfully built a realistic world in Silver on the Road. It's an atmospheric novel, dark, but not bleak. However, it isn't long after Isobel and Gabriel leave Flood that they feel a sense of menace, a threat to the Territory. The two complex characters are perfect heroes to face the threat, brooding, introspective people who ponder their roles and the boss' purpose in dealing with them.
Silver on the Road is a brilliant western fantasy. It successfully launches an intricately plotted, riveting series.
Laura Anne Gilman's website is www.lauraannegilman.net
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman. SAGA Press. 2015. ISBN 9781481429689 (hardcover), 382p.
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