An Easy Death
A gun-slinging young woman battling magic-wielders and fellow gunman alike in a wild west setting on an altered historical timeline. Count us in, right? An Easy Death promises everything I could ever want in a book. It only kind of delivers, though.
In this first entry of Charlaine Harris’ new Gunnie Rose series, Lizbeth Rose, a ‘gunnie’ by trade, is a badass teen with a snarky attitude and killer marksman skills. In Lizbeth’s world, the United States has splintered into different territories and has been absorbed into other ruling powers. One of these powers, the Holy Russian Empire, yields ‘grigoris’ – or magic users – as weapons. Grigoris are widely distrusted, and in the southwestern country known as Texoma where we meet Lizbeth, it’s the gunnies who maintain some semblance of order, taking on jobs like escorting families across the border to Mexico. When one of these runs turns deadly for Lizbeth and her crew, she has to muster up every ounce of strength not just to finish the job, but to survive.
Already rumored to be the best gunnie in Texoma, this incident only serves to further enhance Lizbeth’s reputation – and to attract unwanted attention. When two grigori (a people she categorically despises) find their way to her, they explain they’d like to hire her to guide them through territory unfamiliar to them and will pay her well for it. They’re in search of a specific low-level magic user they believe to be a direct descendant of Rasputin, and they need his blood to save their young tsar’s life. Lizbeth agrees, but she’s risked a great deal to do so; travelling closely with these two grigori means constantly keeping a secret from them that if revealed, would permanently alter Lizbeth’s life.
The first thing that struck me about this book was that Lizbeth is SO young. She’s nineteen, and thanks to her incredible marksmanship, she’s part of a crew that protects the people who hire them to bring them across the border. Her age does serve to make her attitude (in the opening scene, she’s having her long, dark curls cut to spite her lover who likes her hair long) and her skill more badass, but she’s sleeping with the crew’s leader, a man clearly her senior by quite a few years:
“The first time we went to bed, he told me he’d been waiting until I was old enough.”
The relationship is a minor factor in comparison to the other things in Lizbeth’s life that we learn about throughout the novel, but it’s a bit problematic. In a country left in turmoil, with many people left in difficult financial situations, this young woman is now intimately involved with the man who helps her make her living. Though she is arguably able to look after herself better than people twice her age – and I think this is supposed to demonstrate to the reader the type of society we’re dealing with – it set a tone I was never able to completely shake.
After Lizbeth’s first major hurdle of the novel, we finally meet the characters who will be her major support throughout the remainder of the read. The grigori, Eli and Paulina, are constantly sizing up Lizbeth’s abilities, mostly due to her attitude and her age, but the together they prove to be an interesting trio; with Lizbeth’s snark, Eli’s kindness and charm, and Paulina’s downright hatred of everything, they’re a fun group to follow and their dynamic has an amusing flow, especially after Lizbeth’s ordeal early on in the novel.
Eli and Lizbeth’s relationship is mostly fun, though there are a few awkward moments, such as when Eli and Paulina are spelled by a witch and it causes Eli to literally jump on top of Lizbeth. He’s been bewitched, but it seems like those emotions are coming from somewhere, and his reaction in the aftermath didn’t exactly give me comfort. It’s an episode that just adds to my total discomfort with Lizbeth’s age in the book. There’s no other aggression from Eli, and he basically treats Lizbeth like a queen in most situations, despite her being a hired hand, but the memory of that episode never completely faded while I was reading.
All in all, I loved the premise of the book, but not the execution. Lizbeth is an excellent character, and the harsh reality of her life and surroundings are poignant and effectively drive the novel, but there is no real acknowledgement of her problematic relationships or incidents with her lovers in the novel. I would definitely read another Gunnie Rose book, hoping to see how Lizbeth grows and see her out of her teenage years, but An Easy Death felt like a false start.