- Series: The Devil's West (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 400 pages
- Publisher: Saga Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (October 6, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 148142968X
- ISBN-13: 978-1481429689
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 158 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #633,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Silver on the Road (The Devil's West) Hardcover – October 6, 2015
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A Publishers Weekly SF, Fantasy, & Horror Top Ten Pick for Fall 2015 (Publishers Weekly)
A Locus Hardcover Bestseller, January 2016! (Locus Magazine Bestsellers January 7th, 2016)
"Silver on the Road takes an underused setting for fantasy—the American West—and uses it to explore coming of age, the limits of power and responsibility, and the importance of mingling compassion and justice. It’s fresh and original and the language is both stark and lovely. The descriptions of the natural landscape of the West fit beautifully with descriptions of talking animals, travelling magicians and terrifying supernatural forces." - 4 ½ stars (RT Book review)
"Silver on the Road feels like a story you've always known, but never read; the kind of haunting, perfect myth that draws together magic, the Old West, saints and sinners and innocents into a brilliant blend that's simultaneously startling and familiar." (- Rachel Caine, NYT bestselling author of the Weather Warden and Morganville Vampire series)
There's magic in the West, and weirdness not easily explained. The deserts are a place of ghostly silences and inexplicable sounds in the night. The mountains have a pull that is magnetic — the kind of thing you can feel in your sleep. The wind will mess with your dreams.
None of this has anything to do with Laura Anne Gilman's new book, Silver on the Road. I lived in the west — spent a decade or more in what Gilman calls simply "the Territory" — and that's just the way things are. So she's chosen a fertile place to begin her new series (the broad plains, red rock and looming mountains of the American West), and amped up the oddity of it all by planting the Devil there as a card dealer, fancy-pants and owner of a saloon in a town called Flood.
And the Devil, he runs the Territory. Owns it in a way. Wards it against things meaner than he is, because Gilman's Devil isn't exactly the church-y version. He's dapper in a fine suit and starched shirt. He's power incarnate — a man (no horns, no forked tail, just a hint of brimstone now and then) who gets things done; who offers bargains to any who come asking and always keeps to the terms because, as everyone in the territory knows, "The Devil runs an honest house." He never asks for anything you're not prepared to give, never gives anything that doesn't have a price.
So when Isobel, who has worked since childhood as an indenture in the Devil's house, comes of age and has the chance to cut her own deal with Old Scratch, she gives the only thing she owns — herself — into the employ of the Boss and becomes the Devil's Left Hand.
"The right hand gathers and gives, visible to all," he tells her. "But the Left Hand, Isobel, the manu sinistra? It moves in shadows, unseen, unheard ... It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."
In order to learn her new trade, Isobel takes to the road under the mentorship of Gabriel (yeah, no foreshadowing there...), one of a loose organization of "riders" who go from town to town delivering mail, carrying news, helping folks in need and just generally (conveniently) keeping an eye on things in the Devil's West (which, unsurprisingly, is the name Gilman has given to her new series, of which Silver on the Road is the first book).
Gilman has obviously read her Joseph Campbell and memorized the 12 steps of the hero's journey. Isobel proceeds rigidly through the paces — daily life, the call to adventure and the appearance of a mentor. She sets off on her journey, learning and growing along the path. To Gilman's credit, Isobel thinks and acts like a teenage girl saddled with both great responsibility and mysterious powers might — particularly one who has grown up as a saloon girl in close proximity to the Devil himself — but that's just mechanics and good writing.
No, what makes Silver on the Road readable and more than just an exercise in making mythology soup is that it all feels so ... pure.
That's not exactly the right word, but it's close. The book has an internal logic that holds together. The strangeness feels honestly strange, but rooted in the land like it'd been living there far longer than there have been eyes to appreciate it. The magic feels real and dirty and grounded and dangerous and uncontrollable. The Boss is a force whose influence holds the Territory together. And the people who populate Gilman's west seem sufficiently steeped in this mess of Christian theology, Native American shamanism, homespun desert magic and a healthy dose of purely American Weird that suddenly seeing a talking rattlesnake on the trail spouting doom-y prophecy only counts as maybe the third or fourth creepiest thing that might happen to them in a day.
All of which makes Silver take on the sheen and weight of forgotten history. Lost in the middle of the story, you'll feel somehow that you've always known the Devil wore a suit and ran a gambling house back in six-gun times, that he once sent a sixteen year old girl out into the world to fight monsters for him — and it's that echo in the brain that makes the thing hard to put down, because reading Silver on the Road is not like falling into some new and unfamiliar world.
It's more like a true American myth being found. (NPR Books October 10, 2015)
Silver on the Road marks a major landmark in the burgeoning subgenre of Weird West Fantasy, and in my opinion the best novel, on all fronts, that Laura Anne Gilman has written to date. Anyone vaguely interested in her work, or in Weird Westerns, should take the coin of the Devil and ride the road with Isobel and Gabriel to find out what’s in the Devil’s West. Isobel’s journey begins here and while the novel ends on a strong note, it is clear that she has miles to ride on the Road yet. I can’t wait for the sequel. (SF Signal October 9, 2015)
Gilman (the Vineart War trilogy) takes readerson a scenic tour of a very weird Wild West in this delightful start to theDevil’s West series. In an early 19th-century America where superstition,magic, and unusual beings flourish, a man considered to be the devil has claimed a vast region west of the Mississippi that’s known simply as theTerritory. When saloon girl Isobel turns 16, she volunteers to work for thedevil and is appointed as his Left Hand, an agent to help keep the Territory under control. Under the guidance of her new mentor, the enigmatic Gabriel, Isobel sets out to learn the ways of the road and discover what her role trulyentails. A rash of supernatural events terrorizing the Territory forces Isobel and Gabriel to team with unlikely allies in hopes of preventing furthertragedy. Gilman skillfully plays with western folklore and history, infusing them with ambiguity and subtle strangeness to deliver a memorable adventure outon the untamed frontier. Refreshingly, her vision of the American West includes respectful portrayals of Native Americans. Isobel’s coming-of-age story is veryaccessible to teens, and there’s plenty for adventure-minded adults to enjoy as well. (Publishers Weekly August 31, 2015)
"Laura Anne Gilman has reimagined an American West that is alluring and gritty, strange and utterly convincing. Her prose is stunning, and her story and characters grabbed my heart and would not let go. Silver on the Road is pure gold.” (― David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson, author of the Thieftaker Chronicles)
"[SILVER ON THE ROAD is] captivating, vivid, and impossible to stop reading... I could taste the dust, hear the rattle of the snakes, feel the wind, and sense the road. Filled with wonderful mythology and strong, compelling characters, this book is a fantastic start to what promises to be a fantastic new series." (- Sarah Beth Durst - author of VESSEL and CONJURED)
"I loved the worldbuilding in this story. I love that the Devil both is and isn’t the figure you’re used to. In some respects, particularly the Bargains he makes, he’s very familiar … and then you realize “Devil” is just a name, and you never truly learn what he really is. There’s power and mystery there. I look forward to the next book in the series!"
(- Jim C. Hines, Hugo award winning author, Libriomancer)
About the Author
Laura Anne Gilman is the author of the Locus bestsellers Silver on the Road and The Cold Eye, the popular Cosa Nostradamus books (the Retrievers and Paranormal Scene Investigations urban fantasy series), the Nebula award-nominated The Vineart War trilogy. Her first story collection is Dragon Virus, and she continues to write and sell short fiction in a variety of genres. Follow her at @LAGilman or LauraAnneGilman.net.
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The book is a coming-of-age story, in which a sixteen-year-old girl, raised in the saloon which is the devil's headquarters, makes an agreement with him to become his Left Hand. This involves travelling the Territory, so she is handed over to a mentor, an experienced rider who is to teach her what she needs to know to travel the roads safely. Together, they discover and must deal with an invading bit of magic which has become dangerous to the Territory and its inhabitants.
The pace is languid, epic-fantasy style, which is probably my main criticism of the book. I prefer a less leisurely narrative, in which the author doesn't take an entire paragraph to say that the protagonist got some coffee and an apple. The chapters (or "parts") are very long, which means that I often stopped reading in the middle of one, sometimes in the middle of a scene in which not much was happening. There will be readers who do this and never come back again.
I kept coming back largely because of the evocative world. One measure, for me, of a book is how many ideas it gives me for my own stories, and this one gave me several - not things I want to directly steal, but new thoughts that were triggered off by an oblique or passing reference. I had the same experience reading Max Gladstone.
The plot itself is a fairly standard coming-of-age fantasy, albeit interestingly genderflipped, and between that and the languid pace, plus a perhaps gratuitous level of hostility to Christianity, it didn't quite make it to five stars for me. It's a strong four, though. I almost gave it my "well-edited" tag, but I spotted 11 minor typos (ranging from a missing period, through common mistypings such as "that" for "than," to word substitutions like "pavement" for "payment," "house" for "hour" and "suspicious" for "suspicions"). They were typos, though, slips of the fingers rather than indications that the author didn't know how to punctuate or what words mean. The prose is highly competent, smooth and evocative, and conveys a good story in a fascinating world.
This new book, far from being an exception, appears to be even better than her previous work. Set at the turn of the 19th Century, the setting is a "Wild West" much wilder than that recounted in our history texts: from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, the land is the Devil's Territory. It is the Devil who created the agreement between the encroaching settlers and the local Indian tribes, and it is the Devil who enforces it from his seat at the card table in the saloon in the small town of Flood, located on the high plains, loosely near modern Lincoln, Nebraska.
Izzy--Isobel-- is a 16 year old who grew up in the saloon, indentured from the age of two to the Devil (who pretty clearly is not Satan, nor even satanic-- despite his power, he always runs a fair game at the gambling tables). The book commences on Izzy's 16th birthday, the day her indenture ends and she becomes legally an adult. She is faced for the first time with an almost existential question-- given her new freedom, what does she do? Stay on as she has been, working for the 'Boss', but with a new and different contract?
Leave the community to live elsewhere in the Territory? Doing what? Leave the Territory and cross the Mississippi into the United States, or go north into the English Mètis territories as a trapper? West, into Spanish Alta California, was probably not an option, as the Spanish hated the Territory as belonging to the Devil himself, and wished only to convert or purge it.
Rather than any of these, she opts to ask the Boss for something more-- for some position with him that would give her some responsibility, and with it some power. [The book says that one should be careful what one asks for, as the Devil might give it to you.] The Boss points out that he already has a 'right hand' in Marie, the saloon's matriarch who is responsible for not just its daily activities but also for ensuring everyone is content. However, it has been long years since he's last had a 'left hand', a 'mano sinistra', who would be his "cold eye" in the Territory, his "knife in the dark". Without any real idea of what this might mean, Izzy agrees, and signs a new contract-- in her own blood.
The Devil then (and to her dismayed surprise) assigns Gabriel to mentor her on being a rider-- someone who travels from place to place without settling anywhere. He was to teach her how to dress and what to pack on the road, how to communicate in more languages (there were a multitude of Indian languages spoken in the Territory, as well as Spanish and French), how to sit a horse all day, how to sleep rough and cook over a fire, how to deal with Indians, Marshals, and with the supernatural that inhabited the Territory. He would also endeavor to keep her alive, at least until she learned to do that for herself.
And the very next morning the Boss, with minimal warning and less preparation, sent Izzy off with Gabriel to ride the circuit through the Devil's Territory.
This book covers the first part of Izzy's trip, and her growth from Izzy, who worked at the Boss's saloon, into Isobel, the Devil's Hand. Like all of Laura Anne Gilman's books it is well worth reading-- and if the series continues as it begins, is probably the best she's written to date.
It's not without one painful mistake, though. There is a point near the end of the book where Gabriel has to interrogate some Spanish friars who have entered the Territory. "¿Quienes soy y por qué estais en el camino?" he demands. "He was asking them who they were and why they were on the road," the book translates.
Well, no. Actually, he asked the Franciscan friars 'Who am I?', which may be a fine existential question to debate with monastics, but not at all what Gilman meant. I'd love to see it corrected.