Short works

Books : reviews

Laura Anne Gilman.
Silver on the Road.
Saga Press. 2015

rating : 3.5 : worth reading
review : 14 June 2019

Isobel is the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye, and the final word.

Back East, they claim the so-called Devil’s West is overrun by magic, magicians, and monsters. But to Isobel, it’s home. She grew up in a saloon, trained to serve drinks and fold laundry, to read those who come to the gambling tables and report back to her boss on what she sees, all the while being trained to become what he needs.

But when she comes of age, she is given a choice … to accept power or go east.

Now the Territory’s Left Hand, Isobel takes to the road, accompanied by the secretive rider Gabriel, who will teach her about the Territory, its people, and its laws. But she needs to learn quickly—the bones of the earth are cracking, and the Hand has work to do.

Isobel’s parents sold her into indentured servitude with the being known as the Devil, to pay off their debt to the land. She has been working for him her whole life, serving in his saloon. Now she is 16, her service time is up, and she has to decide what to do: to enter into her own deal with the Devil, or take her freedom outside his domain. She chooses a new deal, but it is not what she expects. Along with her mentor Gabriel, she rides the Devil’s territory as his Left Hand, learning her way into the role as she goes.

Most of the fun of this is learning, along with Isobel, how this magical version of the USA works. This is a coming-of-age, apprentice learns the ropes by being thrown in the deep end, nothing is quite what it seems, take mysterious and cryptic warnings seriously, historical fantasy. It feels rather episodic to start with, but all the parts weave together by the end, as Isobel comes to accept the role she was given, not the role she thought she was asking for.

There is a satisfying conclusion to the story, but I discovered when I finished it that it is the first in a trilogy. So I went off and bought the other two.

Laura Anne Gilman.
The Cold Eye.
Saga Press. 2017

Isobel is the left hand of the old man of the Territory, the Boss—or as some call him, the Devil. Along with her mentor, Gabriel, she is traveling circuit through his land to represent his power and uphold the agreement he made with the people to protect and aid them. Here in the Territory, magic exists—sometimes wild and perilous.

Laura Anne Gilman.
Red Waters Rising.
Saga Press. 2018

In this concluding novel in the Devil’s West trilogy, Isobel and Gabriel are riding the Road to the southern edge toward the largest city within the Territory, the free city of Red Stick.

Laura Anne Gilman.
Hard Magic.
Luna. 2010

rating : 4.5 : passes the time
review : 25 July 2021

Welcome to P.U.P.I. Private, Unaffiliated, Paranormal Investigations.
A handpicked team trained to solve crimes the regular police can’t touch—crimes of magic.

My name’s Bonnie Torres. Recent college grad, magic user and severely unemployed. Until I got a call out of nowhere to interview for a job I hadn’t applied for. It smelled fishy, but the brutal truth was I needed the work—so off I went.

Two days later I’m a PUPI—me and Nick, Sharon, Nifty and Pietr. Five twentysomethings, thrown into an entirely new career in forensic magic.

The first job we get is a doozy: proving that the deaths of two Talents were murder, not suicide. Worse, there are high-profile people who want us to close up shop and go away. We’re sniffing out things they’d rather keep buried.

Looks as if this job is gonna get interesting. The only problem is, we’re making it up as we go along…

Bonnie Torres, looking for a job that doesn’t require tech, as her magic tends to fry electronics, unexpectedly receives an offer to join a magical detective agency. Intrigued, she joins, along with a handful of other talents. They undergo training, then a case comes in: a double murder made to look like suicide. The half-trained squad investigate.

I found this a bit slow and linear, as we get Bonnie’s background and training before the detective work starts. I prefer being dumped in the action, with backstory supplied in small chuncks as and when needed. Once what I feel is the main plot starts, things move a bit faster, but it’s all still very much establishing setting and team bonding, rather than detecting.