Silver on the Road, by Laura Anne Gilman

I’ve been reading Iain Pears’ An Instance of the Fingerpost since Monday but, as I still have more than 400 pages to go on that behemoth, I took a break to read something else. I don’t want A Bookish Type to go stale.

Silver on the Road
Silver on the Road

Laura Anne Gilman’s Silver on the Road was featured in a post on io9 about new fantasy/western fiction and it’s blend of a western setting with magic was extremely tempting. In Silver on the Road, we are introduced to a magical not-American west ruled by a man everyone calls the devil. Izzy has worked for him since she was a small child. Now that she’s 16, she has the choice of striking out on her own or continuing to work for the boss.

The day after her birthday, Izzy makes a deal with the boss. She wants respect. The boss is willing to grant her request, but Izzy has to agree to be his left hand and travel the Territory on his business. She agrees, even though the bargain isn’t quite what she wanted. And so Izzy is sent out into the world with a saddlebag, a pack, a horse, a silver ring, and a gambler for a mentor.

I felt like I sank into the book’s setting like I would a well-worn, familiar chair. The road Gilman describes could have come out of any western—dusty, lonesome, dangerous—except for all the magic. The Territory Izzy now patrols is inhabited by crazed magicians, demons, semi-sentient dust devils, and magical creatures of all sorts. She represents her boss wherever she goes, but the job of Devil’s Left Hand didn’t come with an instruction manual.

Even if the setting weren’t absolutely glorious I would still recommend Silver on the Road to readers, especially young female readers. This book is not just a physical journey for our protagonist, it’s also a journey towards adulthood. Gilman has a deft touch in this. She could have hit her readers over the head with speeches or posturing by her characters. There’s none of that. Instead, we have a somewhat timid girl use her natural pragmatism to stand up and right some wrongs. I could have watched Izzy become a power in her own right for another couple hundred pages. Alas, I will have to wait for the sequels.

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