Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris

Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine HarrisAn Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1) by Charlaine Harris
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: alternate history, urban fantasy, Western
Series: Gunnie Rose #1
Pages: 336
Published by Pocket Books on July 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The beloved #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Sookie Stackhouse series, the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood, and the Midnight Crossroad trilogy adapted for NBC’s Midnight, Texas, has written a taut new thriller—the first in the Gunnie Rose series—centered on a young gunslinging mercenary, Lizbeth Rose.

Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life.

As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by 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 is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.

My Review:

There was a Red Dead Redemption soundtrack playing through the house this weekend as I was reading An Easy Death. And while Red Dead Redemption isn’t exactly the weird West that the book portrays, those homages to old-school Western TV music certainly created the right mood.

This first book in the Gunnie Rose series takes place in a dystopian, post-Apocalyptic alternate history weird, wild West. Yes, that’s kind of a mouthful. But it all fits.

The Apocalypse that this book is post of was definitely a turning point in history. As it would have been. First, the Great Depression happened. As it did. Second, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to his first term as President in 1932. So far, so good.

But that’s where history goes off the rails. Everything up until 1932 happened the way it happened in our history – with one notable exception. The Romanovs, the Russian Imperial family, managed to escape the 1917 Revolution. Or, at least the Tsarevich and his sisters did, eventually settling in California at the invitation of the Hearst family.

However, in 1932, history goes completely off the rails when FDR is assassinated before he can take office. Then another influenza epidemic carries off his vice-president. And the U.S. fractures into pieces.

In the ensuing economic chaos, most of the original 13 colonies petition Britain to take them back. Canada and Mexico gobble up nearby territory. And the Romanovs establish the Holy Russian Empire in California.

Some places strike out on their own, like Gunnie Rose’s own Texoma, a semi-lawful (and semi-lawless) amalgam of Texas and Oklahoma sandwiched between Mexico and New America.

That’s where our story begins. Gunnie Rose is a member of a mercenary company that takes refugees from Mexico to New America. Mexico is throwing the gringos out. (Sound twistedly familiar?)

When her entire company is killed on a run gone wrong, Gunnie rescues the human cargo, takes the survivors to their original destination, and avenges her dead friends. Now she’s out of work.

And that’s where things get really, really interesting.

Two Russians show up on her doorstep, wanting to hire her for a manhunt. They’re looking for the last known descendant of Rasputin. Yes, that Rasputin. They need his blood to keep the Tsar alive.

Rasputin, after all, really did have a treatment for the Romanov family curse – hemophilia. The Russians in this story know that cure was in his blood, just as the curse was in the Tsar’s blood.

What they don’t know is that the man they are hunting is dead – because Gunnie Rose killed him. And that he was her father. That’s not the first lie of either commission or omission that the Gunnie tells her new clients, and it certainly won’t be the last.

Escape Rating A-: This is a fantastic setup for a series. There’s so much that has gone wrong, and the way that the wrongness has taken hold makes so much sense. It reminds me a bit of Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker – not for the steampunk, but for its focus on its kickass heroine, and for the way that its alternative history proceeds logically from its massive fork in the historical road.

The story has a “perils of Pauline” aspect, in that the gunnie is always jumping out of the frying pan and into yet another fire. The journey she undertakes is fraught with danger, some that she anticipates and some she can’t – because her employers are keeping just as many secrets from her as she is from them – and theirs are more dangerous.

But the “life and death on the road” aspects of the story allow the reader to become immersed slowly rather than have the entire misshapen history shoved at us at once. Gunnie and her employers are from different countries and different stations of life, so the things that they expect are vastly different than the ones that she does. That’s why they’ve hired her, because she is the expert on the things and places that they need to visit.

Admittedly, it also seems like Gunnie has way more common sense than they do. Life among the upper crust does not prepare one for dealing with common folks, especially common folks that are rightfully scared of you – if they don’t think you’re the devil incarnate.

There is magic in this world, and Gunnie’s employers are Russian wizards, whom most people outside the HRE (Holy Russian Empire) call “grigoris”. Grigoris are feared and hated, because they can do fearful and dangerous things, as well as powerful and healing things.

This is a world that I could talk about forever, because the way that history has forked and the results of the fork are endlessly fascinating. The more you read, the more you get sucked into this world, just as Gunnie gets sucked into her employers’ quest.

When the story ends, we readers feel just as “spit out” of the world as Gunnie does from the grigoris plots and counterplots. And we’re just as eager to get back in.

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