Series: THE DEVIL'S WEST
Plot Type: Adult (not YA) Alternate History Fantasy of the American West
Ratings: Violence—4; Sensuality—2; Humor—2
Publisher and Titles: MIRA
Silver on the Road (10/2015)
This ongoing post was revised and updated on 1/21/2017 to include a review of The Cold Eye, the second novel in the series. That review appears first, followed by an Introduction, an overview of the World-Building, and a review of the first novel.
NOVEL 2: The Cold Eye
In the sequel to Silver on the Road, Isobel is riding circuit through the Territory as the Devil's Left Hand. But when she responds to a natural disaster, she learns the limits of her power and the growing danger of something mysterious that is threatening not just her life, but the whole Territory.
After Gabriel catches up with Isobel, they soon discover that magicians are the source of the problem. This sets up a dilemma for Isobel because now her involvement raises a major jurisdictional question. "The Agreement gave the devil dominion over those who came into the Territory but not those who were of the Territory—the tribes, and those born of the bones themselves, the creatures of spirit and medicine. And not the magicians, who came from the outside but gave themselves over to the wind. But what of the Territory itself? She could feel it spreading out under her hand, though they were far off the Road...Too large, too strong for even the devil to comprehend."
The first half of the book moves at a slow pace, almost as slow as Isobel's plodding mule, and the story line dips much more deeply into the woo-woo than the first book did. This plot involves an angry ancient spirit, several teleporting spirit animals (owl, snake, wapiti (aka elk), and Reaper), and spirits of dead magicians. Each one has a position in the mythology that comes with a particular set of characteristics. Generally, after a mystical scene in which Isobel presses her hand into the earth and goes into a trance, she will then explain what happened by summarizing it for poor Gabriel, who is forced to stand by outside Isobel's salted wards. His job is to watch what happens, intervene if he thinks Isobel is in dire danger, watch out for human and nonhuman enemies, and protect the animals and supplies. I understand that Gilman is diving deeper into the magic in this novel, but the events that occurred during the trance scenes were not always clear to me so I grew to depend on Isobel's after-trance discussions with Gabriel.
Throughout this novel, Isobel struggles with the fact that the Boss has never given her any instruction on how to use her personal magic and how it interacts with the magic that engulfs the Territory. She frequently grouses (to herself and to Gabriel) that things would be so much easier for everyone involved if the devil had just given her more information before sending her out into a world in which she is a novice who is forced to rely purely on instinct when she uses her powers to solve Territorial problems. "'Would it be so much,' she said, as much to the world around her as the mule accompanying her, 'for things to be explained rather than feeling as though the world's watching me try to figure it out? '" By the end of the book, Isobel realizes that she is more than just the devil's left hand—that the Territory itself has given her some major power.
Back at the beginning of the book, the catalyst that set the magicians on their violent, deadly path was the U.S. President, Thomas Jefferson, who realizes that America needs to spread out across the Mudwater (aka Mississippi River) into the devil's Territory. This is what causes the problems that Isobel deals with in this novel, and it will continue to be the devil's (and Isobel's) biggest problem in the future. Jefferson and his spies and interlopers represent the greedy, violent, and genocidal aspects of Manifest Destiny.
Although this novel sometimes lost me in its deep, woo-woo depths, I still enjoyed the book, particularly the two main characters and their complicated relationship. I look forward to watching the struggle between the devil and Thomas Jefferson, with Isobel right in the center of the fight. This fresh and inventive approach to fantasy is a welcome respite from the unending stream of look-alike urban fantasy series with vampire/werewolf/demon plots starring brawny, leather-clad alpha male heroes and their gorgeous, sarcastic, angst-filled heroines. To read an excerpt from this novel on its Amazon.com page, click HERE and then click on the cover art.
FULL DISCLOSURE: My review of Cold Eye is based on an electronic advance reading copy (ARC) of the book that I received from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I received no promotional or monetary rewards, and the opinions in this review are entirely my own.
|Santa Fe Trail wagon-wheel|
ruts near Dodge City, KS
|The dark brown section is the Territory.|