Book Review: An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Paranormal
Series: Book 1 of Gunnie Rose
Publisher: Saga Press (October 2, 2018)
Length: 306 pages
Before An Easy Death, my past experience with Charlaine Harris’s work pretty much began and ended with the first Sookie Stackhouse book, and it was swiftly determined that southern vampires just weren’t for me. Afterward, I wasn’t so sure about trying another one of her series, but then I heard about Gunnie Rose. Maybe it was the weird western vibes or the idea of a modern gunslinging urban fantasy set in a post-collapse alternate world where most of the country and its heroes are wild again, but right away, the premise caught my attention like a fish on a hook.
Lizbeth Rose, our intrepid protagonist, is a gunnie—a hired gun who makes her living with a mercenary team whose jobs frequently involve escorting bands of farmers across the treacherous landscape of what was once the southwestern United States. Following the assassination of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1930s, the country suffered a massive decline in economy, infrastructure, and national defense, forcing its government to cede much of its territory to the other world powers. The Russians, for instance, have claimed much of the west coast as part of their Holy Russian Empire, while Canada has also taken a chunk out of the north, and in the bordering states to the south where we find ourselves now, the area has become known as Texoma. Much of society here has reverted to the times of the Old West, where bandits on the road are not uncommon, and travelers who wish to arrive at their destination in one piece are wise to hire gunnie crews like the one Lizbeth works for.
But of course, survival—like everything else in Texoma—is never guaranteed. What was supposed to be a routine job turns into a bloodbath, as the caravan Lizbeth and her crew were hired to escort is ambushed on the road by a group of merciless bandits. All our protagonist’s teammates are killed, including a couple of their charges, but nevertheless, our girl perseveres, completing the job with what’s left of her party. Once safe, Lizbeth returns home for some much-needed quiet time in order to grieve and figure out her next step. Unfortunately, respite is not in the cards. Apparently, her reputation as a reliable gunnie has reached the ears of the Holy Russian Empire, and a couple of their wizards from California have found their way to her doorstep, looking to hire her to protect them while they search for one of their fellows. Pauline and Eli are “grigoris”—powerful magic users named for their venerated Rasputin—on a dangerous and secretive mission, one that would require the services of an effective and discreet bodyguard. What they don’t realize, however, is that Lizbeth has a personal stake in their manhunt too, and she knows a lot more about the situation than she lets on.
Have you ever finished a book and thought to yourself, wow, this was just what I needed? I felt that way after reading An Easy Death. It’s the perfect book to raise you out of a reading slump, or to tackle on a leisurely Saturday morning after grueling week. Action-packed and fast as hell, this was a novel I finished in a single sitting. The pacing never really let up, and the snappy prose and dialogue kept me reading for hours until the very last page. I enjoyed everything about the book—so much so, I can’t decide what I loved best. World, characters, story—it was all so good.
But I suppose Lizbeth Rose made the strongest impression. The author has a knack for writing feisty, spirited main characters who might not be very worldly for their young age, but they make up for it with cleverness, independence, and determination. Some of Lizbeth’s strongest traits include her sense of honor and loyalty. She’s only a killer when she needs to be, when she’s on a job or defending herself and her friends. She’s the kind of person who does right by those who treat her well, and will give no mercy to those she considers her enemies. This simple worldview of hers also has a tendency to make strangers underestimate her, always to their own detriment. In reality, Lizbeth is a lot more perceptive and calculating than others give her credit for, which she uses to her advantage.
Then there’s the world-building. Charlaine Harris has created a no holds barred version of a post-apocalyptic Wild West-like setting where life is rough, violent, and mostly lawless. You get a sense that everyone is out for themselves out here, in this world where wishing someone “an easy death” is the kindest and most friendly greeting you could receive from a passing traveler. Theft, murder, and rape are everyday realities in Texoma, a notion backed up by the blunt, no-nonsense attitude of the prose. Horrifying as it is, none of the violence or suffering is really played up for emotional points or drama, and in a way, this stark presentation further adds to the gravity of the situation. Perhaps none serves as a better example than the massacre in the opening chapters. This is the only life Lizbeth has ever known. It is what it is, so you do what you do to pick yourself up and keep going.
This being an alternate history, the setting also has its fair share of quirks, not least of them being the presence of the Holy Russian Empire in the Americas, bringing along with them their powerful magic. And yet, the fantastical elements remained a more understated aspect of the book throughout, though I enjoyed the interesting angles they provided. They added spice to what was a standard adventure plot following the trio of Lizbeth, Eli, and Pauline as they made their way across Texoma, stopping at town after town—some of which are more welcome than others. As you would expect, there was also a light touch of sexy action, though mixed in with the action and mystery, the romance wasn’t something that was emphasized or put on a pedestal, which was exactly the way I liked it.
Bottom line, for a straight-up awesome read, pick up An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris. Whether you’re new to the author’s work or an old fan, I think most readers will be struck by the refreshingly different feel of her new series and be riveted by the energy of Lizbeth’s tale.