The first thing Gunnie Rose does when she gets her own book series is get a
makeover haircut, to show how her life is about to go through some drastic changes. Gunnie Rose, who is also known as Lizbeth, actually has multiple reasons for her new look. She’s a 19 year old woman who lives in what would be the southwestern US, if she lived in our world, and her work as an almost magical sharpshooter keeps her outdoors most of the time, so her long hair gets hot and sticky. Plus her hair grows in long ringlets, which her boyfriend paid more attention to than he did to the rest of her, so she figured it was time to remind him to pay more attention to the person underneath the hair. But probably most importantly of all, since she’s called Gunnie for a good reason, the ringlets are dragging down her job performance and her reputation. She’s NOT adorable, okay?
An Easy Death is the first book in Charlaine Harris’ new series about an alternate version of North America, whose history veers away from our own when Franklin Delano Roosevelt is assassinated between election day and his inauguration in 1933. With the presidential succession not at all agreed upon, the government falls into disarray and the US deconstructs itself into regional entities. Every American Indian nation which can retake its land and defend its borders does so. The southeast becomes Dixie and reinstates slavery, the original British colonies revert back to Britain and become Britannia, the northern states become part of Canada, and the midwest becomes New America. Texoma, where Gunnie lives, is made up of the former states of Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico, and has continuing border disputes with Mexico.
In this universe the Russian royal family escaped the revolution, along with their most trusted wizard advisor Grigori Rasputin. They and many other Russians, both wizards and normal humans, settled in California. When the US government fell, the western states turned to the former tsar to lead them. That region is now known as the Holy Roman Empire (HRE) and is a haven for wizards from around the world. Sometimes wizards from the HRE try their luck in other parts of North America, where they are called Grigoris, after the most famous wizard, and aren’t very popular.
An Easy Death takes place sometime in the mid 20th century or later, in a world with mid 20th century level technology, but a post apocalyptic feel. As is typical of Charlaine Harris’ style, the tone is bantery and light, with vivid characters and settings. In book 1, wizards and local shaman are the only magical folk, but the alternate history makes this a very different world from our own, even though it’s not as populated with magical creatures as some of Harris’ other books.
Without FDR and the New Deal, much of the continent was unable to recover from the Great Depression and has fallen into disrepair, with unmaintained roadways haunted by bandits, uneven electrical coverage and widespread poverty. Texoma remains the Wild West that it was at the turn of the 20th century, with an occasional modern convenience.
Because travel conditions are so difficult, people who wish to go long distances often hire crews with guides, drivers and guards to escort them safely through the countryside. Gunnie Rose is the sharpshooter on a local crew working out of Segundo Mexia. She’s young, but she’s already developing a reputation as one of the best in the business.
The story of An Easy Death takes place during a series of road trips, following Gunnie Rose through several missions. A substantial part of the book is meant to introduce the reader to the major characters, setting and the rules of the world the series takes place in, as is typical for the first book in a speculative fiction series.
This is also a coming of age story for Lizbeth Rose. She’s a child of two worlds, three if you count the world before the collapse of the US. Until now, she’s focused on only one side of herself. As her travels take her further from home and introduce her to new people, it opens up possibilities which she’d never considered, she’s tested in new ways, and exposed to all of the other good stuff that coming of age stories throw at their main characters. But her story stays unique because her world is unique and so are the characters in it.
Like many other people, I loved Charlaine Harris’ Midnight, Texas books, and the first 7 or 8 of the Sookie Stackhouse books. (I’ve read some of her other, non supernatural series, too, and liked them, but those don’t seem as relevant to this story.) Then I was dismayed by the way the Sookie books and the True Blood series ended, and wasn’t sure I wanted to try any more of her books.
I’m glad I gave this book a try. It almost seems like another version of Sookie and Eric. Gunnie has a lot in common with Sookie, but she’s more confident from the start and revels in her talents, rather than being burdened by them. Our society would give Gunnie Rose many reasons to doubt herself, such as the circumstances of her birth, but she has an internal optimism, strength and sense of self that’s rare and refreshing. Eli, one of the current potential love interests, has many of Eric’s good qualities, but so far doesn’t seem to have the fatal flaws that Eric was retconned into having. I look forward to seeing where his character goes, since he has room for growth.
The main flaw of the book would be Harris’ usual flaw. She throws everything but the kitchen sink into the big finish, without necessarily preparing the reader for what’s coming. Suddenly, new characters appear, practically out of nowhere, the plot takes precedence over established and new characters, and we’re left at the end feeling a little breathless and not quite sure what else we should feel. Should I cry for the loss of a character I hardly knew, but who made a great sacrifice? Especially since it follows other, more meaningful scenes? Sometimes a little bit more foreshadowing and character build up could have gone a long way.
Overall, this is an exciting new direction for Charlaine Harris and I look forward to following the adventures of Gunnie Rose. Her world is vividly drawn and full of potential. Gunnie Rose is a great young heroine for the 21st century – confident, real and full of life, ready to step out into the world and take on any challenge.
An Easy Death is out now. Book 2 in the Gunnie Rose series, A Longer Fall, will be released January 14, 2020.