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Silver on the RoadSilver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When Isobel reaches the age of sixteen her term of indenture in the city of Flood ends. She has choices, now. Izzy can head south and west, into Nueva Espana, though she will be viewed with suspicion for leaving the haunted lands of the Territory. She can go east, across the big Muddy, and seek the great cities of The States—though the rumored number of people is intimidating. Isobel could go north, to the French territories and the lands where the Metis trap for fur. Or she could stay in Flood, the Devil’s town, and remain in the Devil’s West. Doing…what?

She wants to work for the man called Boss, the powerful entity who raised her. Is he the Christian Devil or merely a profoundly powerful magic worker? So far we haven’t a clue. But he’s known for running the only honest gambling house in the West. He will give you what you ask for, if you have something worth a trade. Be careful what you ask for…or offer. Isobel wishes to serve him in a Bargain, this one made not by her long-gone parents but herself. But if Maria’s job as the Boss’s Right Hand is still filled, who could Isobel be?

"The right hand gathers and gives, visible to all," he tells her. "But the Left Hand, Isobel, the manu sinistra? It moves in shadows, unseen, unheard ... It is the strength of the Territory, the quick knife in the darkness, the cold eye and the final word."


Isobel takes her deal, not truly knowing what she has asked for, and her life—and adventure—begins. Laura Anne Gilman has given us a frontier coming of age tale that weaves and pulses like the muddy Mississippi River. Isobel acquires a mentor as she heads out from Flood into the depths of the Territory, learning both how to take care of herself and how to mind the Devil’s business. She finds that the magic she has sensed beneath the soil of the Territory is born of deep roots, manifesting in new and unexpected ways. Ceaseless winds breed mages who bow to no masters, the natives have their own shamans and power, and no one is surprised when a rattlesnake brings you a Message. A silver coin at a crossroads can reveal tainted magic, a trap, or safe passage. All people who choose to live in the Territory are bound to a Bargain—with the tribes, with the Devil, with the magic itself.

Beautifully written, this is not a fast read. Sink into the Territory and the Devil’s West, and join Isobel as she discovers adulthood, magic, and destiny. Highly recommended. If you loved the Frontier Magic series by Patricia Wrede or my Night Calls series, give this a try. The fantastic American West lives!




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