Review: Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman (Devil’s West #1)


Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman // VBC ReviewSilver on the Road (The Devil’s West #1)
Laura Anne Gilman
Published: Oct. 6, 2015 (Saga Press)
Purchase: Book Depository or Amazon
Review source: library

Reviewed by: Margaret

Rating (out of 5): 4.5 stars

Between the newly formed United States and Nueva España lies an area known to its residents simply as The Territory. The outside world calls it The Devil’s West, after the man who governs it. The Devil lives in a small town called Flood, where he runs a saloon, deals cards, and negotiates Bargains.

Isobel was sold to the Devil as a small child and has worked as an indentured servant in the saloon for years. But on her sixteenth birthday, her indenture comes to an end. Isobel can chose to go anywhere in the world, but instead she asks the Devil for a job. She becomes his Left Hand, “the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye, and the final word,” though she has no idea what any of that actually means. Rather than explaining it to her, the Devil sends her out on the Road with a virtual stranger.

Gabriel met Isobel in the saloon and, without knowing anything about her, offered to mentor her on the Road. He’s surprised when it’s the Devil who accepts his offer. Gabriel teaches Isobel how to ride and to survive on the road, but there are many things that he makes her figure out on her own. His silence would be frustrating if not for the passages told from his point of view. At this point he’s neither a romantic interest nor a father figure to Isobel, so I’m curious about how their relationship might evolve.

Isobel, left to figure things out on her own, looks inside herself and even inside the land for the answers. The way she accesses her power often reminds me of Jane Yellowrock. Not that she has another form or an actual spirit trapped inside her, but there’s just enough similarity that I think fans of Jane might like Isobel as well. As a teenager out on her own for the first time, I think she’ll also speak to young adult fans, though the book itself is not YA. Personally I related to her as someone starting a new job more than a teenager transitioning into the adult world, though she’s certainly both.

The supernatural elements in the Devil’s West are at once pervasive and subtle, though increasingly less subtle toward the end of the book. Little things like the Devil’s appearance changing every day or Isobel sensing the town boundary suggest that the Territory is special long before we encounter a magician or a demon. At the same time, I knew exactly where and when the story was set (I realized there was a map in the front of the book only after I finished reading) because everything felt so familiar. I’m really impressed with the research that must have been involved to create that level of detail.

The world is so similar to our own that I feel a bit like Claire in Outlander, knowing that this way of life is about to come to an end, but unable to warn the people living it. I keep reminding myself that it’s not precisely the same world and the Louisiana Purchase isn’t about to bring the inevitable end for Isobel and Gabriel. The fact that there are more books planned in the series has me nearly convinced.

I’m happy to think they can keep traveling the Road indefinitely. I want to learn more about Gabriel and the secrets he keeps. I want to know who the Devil was before he adopted the name the Spanish gave him. And I want to know if the Territory survives the seemingly inevitable American incursion or if “civilization” eventually destroys the last of the magic in this world.

Sexual content: none

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