Silver on the Road (2015) by Laura Anne Gilman begins a tale of the Devil's West. The year is somewhere around 1800-1810, Jefferson is president of the nearby United States, and the territory which we call the Louisiana Purchase is dominated by "the devil," a man of unknown origin and subtle power. Indentured to the Devil is Izzy, who on her 16th birthday gets her freedom. When she chooses to continue working for the devil, she gets far more duty that she anticipated.
Judging by the stars, many people enjoy this novel. I must conclude that I am just not one of the people who this novel was aimed at. To me, this novel felt like it had no fire in its belly. At the end of the introduction, where the plot should have propelled us forward with energy, I found the story sagging, the agency of the lead character sapped from the very beginning. On the other hand, if you want an easy read where your brain gets a little fun away from work, then this book would work for you.
I felt like Izzy operated the whole novel with a safety net under her. Anytime that any great tension or doubt formed around the characters or situations, Gilman expertly defuses that tension, returning us to the placid story that dominates. Nothing mattered much to us, and what should have mattered, we quickly forgot.
Where plots are simple, a work can be challenging through interior character growth, but not in this book. Our heroine rarely gets a chance to make a mistake, to live with her mistakes, and to dig out from her mistakes. She grows, but not nearly as much as she could have grown. As a reader, I never feared for her. Even when we reach the climax of the tale, there's no tension to cut. Without that tension, I couldn't see her personality well.
The plot took forever in developing. I don't think that half the novel was even necessary, meaning that this novel felt like an overstuffed novella. Any tolerable editor could have cut it down with little work.
I found the secondary characters unchallenging and equally lacking in character. They existed and said their parts, each doing their own thing, but their thing didn't nearly express their character.
I quickly grew to dislike the ninja indians, who were essentially ninjas dressed as indians. Given a chance to give us people, Gilman gave us caricatures. Given a chance to give us humans with concerns and conflicts, we got placid words and little else. I would far rather have had more time be paid to the people on the road than the long descriptions of nothing in particular.
I feel like this book missed its niche. It could have been a YA book, but it doesn't dwell enough in the YA experience. It could have been a historical book, but she doesn't know the time period well enough to bring us into the experience. It could have been a dark fantasy, but it's too milquetoast. It could have been literary fantasy, but we just don't get the kind of character growth that would require. That leaves me wondering where it fits and partially explains why the work fell so flat for me.