Review of Silver on the Road: The Devil’s West #1 by Laura Anne Gilman (Saga Press, October 6, 2015)
A Weird West story with a teenage girl employed by the devil as the main character? The concept was so intriguing that Your Humble Reviewers had to read it.
Isobel comes of age and goes from being a child in the devil’s household to being the Territory’s Left Hand. Gabriel takes on being her mentor on the road and the two of them leave the town of Flood where Isobel has lived most of her life.
It is a travel tale which takes the story around the Old West, running into other interesting travelers: a magician, several different groups of Native Americans, some beings which aren’t human, some cranky human miners, and some monsters. Much beautiful scenery is described and the everyday harshness of life for a woman on the trail during that time is clearly depicted.
As her boss the devil intended, Isobel discovers herself while on the road. She finds what she can do by pulling on the boss’s power and discovers the huge amount of information she can find using her link to the road and the Territory. Since most everyone she encounters is male, she is also forced to learn how to increase her presence so they take her seriously and don’t give her static about following the orders she gives them.
The physical challenges of riding every day and the limited amounts of food and water (for drinking or cleaning) mean that Isobel changes physically as well. Gabriel does a good job of guiding her, but letting her discover her limits on her own. As the novel progresses, it is clear that his reasons for taking the devil’s bargain to mentor her are not exactly what he told Isobel. He has hidden secrets and depths which are not fully explored in this volume, but as Isobel has matured by the end of the volume she is realizing that she doesn’t know him. It will be interesting to see how their relationship progresses over the course of the next book.
The scenery descriptions are wonderful and the details of trail life like foods, washing, hiding from the men to go to the toilet and being saddle sore make the world feel very real. Isobel changes from a rather sheltered teen into a confident young woman. She and the supporting cast are all well-drawn characters with distinct quirks, habits, and clothing.
This alternate Wild West story has the realism you want to find in a western, a reasonable magic system based on nature which is limited as to who can use it, and characters that are easy to care about and cheer on as they battle monsters and sexist males. The different tribes of Native Americans are depicted as clearly distinct from each other and treated with respect. So if you like westerns or travel type fantasy stories, then this story is for you!