Charlaine Harris’ alternative America, where history diverged after Roosevelt’s assassination, is a fractured America that has lost land to its neighbours and has seen twelve of the original colonies ally with Britain. San Diego has become the home of the Holy Russian Empire (HRE) after the Tsar fled there with his army, his priests and his magicians in 1918.
This is an America where magic works and those with a talent for it seek training and employment in the HRE. This America is a violent, often lawless place where travel is dangerous and borders mark the places where attitudes and beliefs change and local laws back them up.
Charlaine Harris brings the world to life by showing it to us through the eyes of nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Rose a young woman who knows that the world she lives in is hard and unforgiving and likely to take her life if she lets it. Still, there’s no point in complaining about what you can’t change so she does what needs to be done, which in her case means working as a ‘Gunnie’ using her guns to kill anyone who tries to kill the clients she’s protecting.
I was introduced to Elizabeth Rose in the first book in the series, “An Easy Death”. An action-packed book with a huge body-count. The tone of the book was set by the title, An Easy Death is what Gunnies wish each other. It’s the best luck they can reasonably hope for.
‘A Longer Fall’ takes place a few months after the first book and sees Gunnie Rose with a new crew, protecting a chest that they have to deliver to a small town in Dixie. After the train she is on is attacked and the rest of her crew are either killed or injured and the chest is lost, Gunnie Rose finds herself having to stay in Dixie to find and retrieve the chest and kill whoever took it. She’s aided in this by meeting up with Eli, the HRE Gregorie that she worked with in ‘An Easy Death’. His mission overlaps with hers so he hires her to work with him to find the chest.
Based on what I remembered from ‘An Easy Death’, I’d expected ‘A Longer Fall’ to be another frantic, action-packed, high body-count adventure. It sort of was those things but it mostly wasn’t. This was a calmer book focused on solving a mystery while trying not to attract attention in a town where everyone watches everyone else and Elizabeth Rose has to decide who she can trust and who she might have to kill. and surviving in a strange town It seemed to me that this was a calmer but more threatening book about Elizabeth Rose navigating her way through the complexities of a strange town and deciding who she could trust and who she might have to kill.
The town is strange not just because it’s new to her but because Dixie separated from the rest of America in order to maintain its distinctive culture of genteel patriarchal misogyny, racism, segregation and religious intolerance.
At first, it was amusing to see Elizabeth Rose having to adjust to a culture where, for her to be treated with any courtesy, she must abandon her normal outfit of jeans and a sleeveless shirt, with a brace of handguns on her hips and a knife in her boot, in favour of demure dresses, soft shoes and a purse barely large enough to hold a gun; but bit by bit as the nature of the society revealed itself, I came to feel that Gunnie Rose’s own culture, as brutal and unforgiving as it was, was stll a better choice than this claustrophobic town where hate and fear and mutual distrust, pulse beneath a surface civility that is more about enforcing compliance than granting polite respect.
I found that I enjoyed the slower pace of this book. Elizabeth Rose and Eli’s search for the people who stole the chest was filled with day-to-day details of life in the town that gave the story a gritty reality.
For me, the best thing about the book was Elizabeth Rose herself. This story let her character shine through. We see her determination, her adherence to a personal code, her righteous anger at abuse, her pragmatic understanding of the limits of her relationships, her openness to friendship despite all the betrayals and lies and most of all her acceptance of responsibility for her own life and her refusal to be told how to live it.
A third Gunnie Rose book has already been published and a fourth comes out in November 2022. I’ll be reading both of them.
I recommend the audiobook versions of the book. For me, Barbara Barnes has become the voice of Elizabeth Rose. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.