Silver on the Road, is the first novel in Laura Anne Gilman’s newest trilogy, The Devil’s West. The novel steps outside of the usual tropes and settings of fantasy novels, transporting the reader into a weird and fantastical re-imagining of the American West. The story feels familiar, but is a fresh and haunting coming of age tale.
Gilman has created a world where at the beginning of the 19th century, much of North America is controlled by the United States, the Spanish Protectorate, and the Territory, which is ruled by the Devil. The events of Silver on the Road occur in the Territory, an area where magic, monsters and magicians are real, accepted part of reality. It is in this strange land that the novel’s main character Isobel was born, and come of age in. On her 16th birthday, she is confronted with the choice to either continue in the Devil’s service or strike out on her own. Her decision to remain in the service of the Devil results in her becoming the Devil’s Left Hand. She takes to the road to learn what being the Devil’s Left Hand means, but, she doesn’t have much time to learn her new duties because the bones of the earth are cracking and there is much work to be done.
This novel has the rare ability to suck readers into a new world from the first chapter. Gilman lures the reader in with what appears to be a familiar setting, but surprises the reader with a bold reimagining of the Western myth and the Devil. Gilman’s Devil isn’t a red skinned demon that is evil. Instead, he is a being of Power that rules the Territory and those that chose to abide by its Laws. The internal mythos of the Territory is a strange amalgam of Christianity, Native American Shamanism, and the inherent magic of the land. This strange mix sounds like it shouldn’t be able to meld into a coherent whole, but Gilman is able to mix these elements into something that feels authentic and real to the reader
While Gilman adheres stringently to the steps of a hero’s journey, it doesn’t feel forced or just a list of events that the main character has to go through. Instead there is a freshness and purity to the story that is lacking in many other novels.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and had a hard time putting it down. The book’s sequel Cold Eye, which will be published January 2017 is already on my pre-order list. I’m also planning on giving her other series a try.