This is a really great thriller with a memorable character: Gunnie Lizbeth Rose. Gunnie being both her title and her profession - a hired gun. Lizbeth is just nineteen but already a valued member of a crew; a professional group hired to get someone or something from place A to place B in a wild west sort of environment. Lizbeth lives in Texoma, a section of what was once the United States until President FDR was killed and the country decimated by the influenza leaving it vulnerable to predations from Mexico, Russia and even Canada. The west coast, including what was California and Oregon, is now the Holy Russian Empire and Tsar Alexei rules in exile.
Lizbeth lost another crew when most were killed in her last adventure; guarding a mysterious crate that the Holy Russian Empire sent to the backwards and racist deep-south country of Dixie (formerly the southeastern part of the USA). And the Holy Russian Empire (HRE) figures prominently in this story but not for the events of the previous story. Lizbeth is living quietly at home in Segundo Mexia when she gets a letter from her eleven-year-old half-sister, Felicia (see book 1 "An Easy Death") which is anything but innocent. While Lizbeth doesn't really know her sister very well, she knows two things: Felicia is smart and Felicia is devious. So it take her all of three minutes to decipher the letter: Eli is imprisoned and Felicia wants Lizbeth to get him out. After the last book, Eli had returned to the HRE to care for his mother and siblings, and return to the HRE Court to show loyalty to the Tsar. Felicia now lives in the HRE as well; her rare blood provides continued health to the Tsar who has a blood disorder. Her blood and willingness to provide it to the Tsar earn her a place in an elite school and her future secured. So Lizbeth doesn't want to do anything to jeopardize Felicia's future but all bets are off when it comes to Eli. The next day Lizbeth is on a train heading to the west coast; scared spitless but determined to do whatever has to be done to free Eli.
After meeting with her little sister - who had a disconcerting way of appearing much older - Lizbeth then went to Eli's mother's home; hoping to get some concrete information about Eli. But with a bit of flavor from USSR-type stories, the family has no idea why Eli is imprisoned or how to get him out. Interestingly, the family didn't believe the Tsar himself knew of Eli's imprisonment but had no idea how to approach him. Eli had been a favorite and strong supporter of the Tsar; this trouble was unprecedented and mysterious. Leaving their house, she immediately ran into another grigori, Felix. Despite her dislike and suspicion of Felix, he may be the only one to actually help her. Her relationship with Felix was…challenging. While they worked together in the second book; Lizbeth has suspicions about Felix' motivations.
With Felix's help, Lizbeth was able to gain the attention of the Tsarina and get permission to visit Eli. The Tsarina also promised to speak to the Tsar about the situation. But someone in the Russian court most definitely does not want Lizbeth to succeed and Eli's mother and sisters are threatened by a most heinous grigori. Lizbeth and Felix are both very interested in knowing who set them up. What follows is a most exciting A-Team type scenario as Lizbeth and Felix work at figuring out how to get into the prison and how to extract Eli. But the worst is yet to come; their enemies have no compunction about killing anyone who supports the Tsar; even the Tsar and Tsarina themselves.
It might have seemed to some that explaining to Eli's mother exactly what their relationship had been while they had been in Dixie would have been the most terrifying moment but that isn't who Lizbeth is. A more straightforward and clear-eyed person, you couldn't find. At the ripe old age of nineteen, Lizbeth is terrifyingly practical and pragmatic. Their future together is dependent on so many ifs, but so long as there's hot water for a bath and Eli next to her in bed, there's nothing that can't be managed.
I continue to devour these books just as soon as they publish. Ms. Harris has a wonderful way with the character of Lizbeth that just makes her so very real in my head. She did provide a bit more background by way of world-building for the dedicated reader but I still long for a wider view of this alternate world. I desperately hope this series has a long and varied life so we can travel more with Lizbeth. ~~ Catherine Book
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