The kind of writer I admire is the one who’s not afraid to branch out. Sure, it’s easy enough to keep writing the same series forever, with the same characters and similar plots, and it’s often very lucrative (consider the late Sue Grafton, for instance, a longtime bestseller, with her alphabet novels; consider Stuart Woods and Clive Cussler for still-living examples). Sometimes people even continue writing books under those authors’ names long after their deaths (look at all the books in Tom Clancy’s series, or in Robert Ludlum’s, or Robert Parker’s, and let’s not even talk about V. C. Andrews), and while I can understand the motivation (money), to me, a writer who’s willing to branch out, even a little, gets more respect. You have people like Walter Mosley, who have written mysteries, speculative fiction, and nonfiction, and you have people like Charlaine Harris, who is not content to rest on her laurels for the Sookie Stackhouse novels (the basis for the television series True Blood) but has branched out into other fields, including today’s focus, the realm of dystopias, in her new book An Easy Death.
An Easy Death takes place in a post-apocalyptic southwestern United States. There is no U.S. anymore, not since the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the Great Depression. There’s a number of smaller countries, including Texoma, where our story is set.
Lizbeth Rose, known as Gunnie Rose, is a mercenary gunslinger who has never yet lost a client, and so has an impressive reputation despite her youth. After a particularly bruising job across the border, Lizbeth Rose is hired by a pair of Russian wizards to be their guide and protector as they search with increasing desperation through the border towns for a particular low-level magic practitioner who MAY be a direct descendant of the legendary Grigori Rasputin. What they don’t tell Lizbeth Rose is that they’re hoping this young man’s blood will cure the young tsar.
As the group begins its search, they are almost immediately attacked by various enemies. Someone or something doesn’t want them to find this particular young wizard, and Gunnie Rose has to put her reputation and her life on the line to make sure she and her wizard clients can survive this mission.
Take a western with magic, a gunslinger working for wizards, a dystopian world that’s both recognizable and disturbingly different from the world we know, and add all the worldbuilding and character development for which Charlaine Harris is justly famous, and you have a book that’s guaranteed to be a good read. The only caveat I have to offer is that it’s the first book in a series, and we all know my feeling about unfinished series (especially when there are cliffhangers in any of the early books), but we can pretend we don’t know that there’s any other books coming and enjoy this as a standalone.