A rather lackluster collection of stories. None stood out, though none were unreadable. If you have a favorite author among the collected, you'll probA rather lackluster collection of stories. None stood out, though none were unreadable. If you have a favorite author among the collected, you'll probably like their entry; otherwise, I didn't find anyone I'd seek out to read more of their work....more
A couple of weeks ago, I was at one of my libraries to attend a JPL-sponsored talk about the search for extraterrestrial life. To kill time before theA couple of weeks ago, I was at one of my libraries to attend a JPL-sponsored talk about the search for extraterrestrial life. To kill time before the lecture began, I browsed the New Book shelf and came across this title. The jacket blurb was interesting enough that I grabbed it.
As it turned out, the JPL lecture disappointed; happily, however, Silver on the Road did not.
The novel is set in an alternate North America in the early 1800s. The Devil’s West (the Territory) is roughly speaking the Louisiana Purchase. To the east, lies the expansionist United States; to the south and west, lie the provinces of the equally rapacious Spanish Empire; and to the north lie the fractious domains of the British, French and natives.
The Old Man (aka, the Devil to those outside the Territory) exercises a mostly hands-off hegemony over the region’s inhabitants, who include European settlers, native tribes and supernatural beings, from a saloon in the town of Flood. Most people accept the Old Man’s rules and live their lives as best they can. Others, though, come to Flood to make a Bargain with the Devil. Isobel has been indentured to the Old Man since her parents left her when she was little. Now it’s her sixteenth birthday and she’s free to do what she wants. She doesn’t want to leave the life and friends she’s made in Flood but neither does she want to remain a barmaid all her life; she wants to do meaningful work for the Old Man. She makes a Bargain with him and becomes his Left Hand, “…the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word.” (p. 29)
Isobel is unseasoned, though. She’s never been outside of Flood and really only knows the Territory from the stories she’s heard working in the saloon. So the Devil pairs her with Gabriel Kasun, an advocate and traveler who knows the region well and will mentor Isobel until she’s capable of surviving on her own. (Gabriel’s made his own Bargain but in this first book the reader doesn’t learn much about the details.)
Isobel & Gabriel set forth without any specific plans but quickly learn that something bad has invaded the Territory and the rest of the novel follows them as they find out what it is and how to deal with it.
I’d recommend this book for a number of reasons. First, Johansen has created an interesting world with the Devil’s West; its inhabitants and how they all fit together is fascinating. Second, I enjoyed reading about Isobel and Gabriel. Both are strong, distinctive characters, and I wanted to know more about them so I’m looking forward to future volumes. And, third, I particularly liked the fact that there’s no romantic angle between Izzy and Gabriel, even implied, and I hope it continues in that vein. They become friends and respect each other’s abilities, and that’s it....more