An Easy Death” is the first book in a new series from Charlaine Harris that is set in an alternative America where history diverged after Roosevelt’s assassination. It tells the story of Elizabeth Rosie, a nineteen-year-old “gunnie” who makes her living providing armed protection to travellers across the, now largely lawless, West.
It seems to me that this book fits into an emerging “Weird West” genre – an American West with magic as an added ingredient and some difference is history. I’m thinking of books like “The Curse Of Jakob Tracy”. “The Devil’s Revolver” or “Make Me No Grave”.
Gunnie Rose knows that the world she lives in is hard and unforgiving and likely to take her life if she lets it. Still, there’s no point in complaining about what you can’t change so she does what needs to be done, which in her case means using her guns to kill anyone who tries to kill the clients she’s protecting. The title, “An Easy Death”, is what Gunnies wish each other. It’s the best luck they can reasonably hope for.
There’s a lot of violence in this book. The body count is so high that I lost track after it reached double figures. The violence and the killing are grim rather than gratuitous but it is brutal and unrelenting. Gunnie Rose knows that she’s a killer. She mostly takes no pleasure in it and sometimes pays a significant emotional price for it. She has her standards but, if someone needs killing, which definitely includes any of the many people who are trying to kill her, she will shoot them dead and move on.
Part of the pleasure in the book comes from discovering the complicated world that Charlaine Harris has placed Gunnie in. This is a fractured America that has lost land to its neighbours and has seen twelve of the original colonies ally with Britain. San Diego has become the home of the Holy Russian Empire (HRE). It’s the place where the Tsar fled to in 1918, bringing with him his priests, his magicians and his army. The HRE welcomes magicians from across the world and trains them to use their magic to serve the Tsar.
Gunny Rose ends up with two magicians as clients and travels with them as they search for a missing minor magician who has something they need.
They have their secrets and Gunny Rose has more than a few of her own. Both sets of secrets get tangled up as the three of them try to carry out their mission while surviving a series of attacks.
I enjoyed this book and I think the series has a lot of promise but some of the world-building resulted in potted history lessons that flattened the story a little. Elizabeth Rose is easy to admire but less easy to like. Still, I want to find out what happens to her next.