Family history has caught up with Hattie: her father’s past and connection to a terrifying demonic revolver has lead to a lot of bad attention. Attention that robs Hattie of everything and leaves her desperate to find her sister; in a trek across the magical Wild West with a range of forces arrayed against her. She’s backed by a group of allies - but how many of them can she trust and what is their real agendas?
Well, this is different. Well developed magical steampunk western. Ok, bizarre quirk? I hate westerns but I love paranormal westerns and steampunk westerns. Especially if you throw in some really excellent world building
And this world building is excellent. The way magic is incorporated into the actual world and businesses. Like the Pinkertons are a magical detective agency, the use of Zoom tunnels not just as magical transport, but the way they’ve been controlled and used basically in the same manner as railroad companies. We have magical rich and poor areas but we also have a world where magic is very much integrated into daily life with common ranchers using magic to protect their livestock, competitions regularly checking if people are carrying magic and a general assumption of magic as a common factor in everyone’s world without turning it into an odd fantasy elves-and-wizards-story. There is a suggestion of greater than normal technology as well - a definite steampunk edge but we don’t explore that much because magic and technology don’t mix much and these characters are all magical but it does promise a lot for future books.
But it’s also interesting how the magical setting actually works with the prejudices of the era (which continue to this day) and how it’s considered how magic would change history - or not. Like there’s an exploration of massacred Native Americans and they talk about how magic doesn’t generally work on metal (except very limited special circumstances): and no matter how magically powerful Native tribes were, because magic cannot stop bullets and modern weaponry is just deadly. This is something we see reinforced a lot which does a great job of emphasising why the Diablo is so special: magic is impressive but if men are pointing guns at you? Or gatling guns are being brought out?
Or there’s how Ling, a main character who is Asian not only faces lots of prejudice for being Chinese but this is also linked to his magic - magic doesn’t free him from prejudice but is in turn seen to be a reason to suspect him: his magic becomes suspect because he’s Asian. Similarly there’s a scene where we find that one of the reasons racists hate magic and are encouraging anti-magic sentiment is because magic isn’t racist. They are outraged and furious that magic can give Black people power, that it makes Black people equal or more than them (since Black sorcerers also seem to have equal status in the world). They examine a lot of the rage and prejudice and evil Ling faces as well. It’s interesting to see magic not just erasing prejudice in the world; nor being ignored as a factor in the world building that would affect magic.
Our protagonist is Hettie and she’s pretty awesome. Her overpowering motivation is to save her sister. She doesn’t have any super powers but manages to inherit the Diablo revolver through the plot. She’s a pretty quintessential ordinary-woman-thrust-into-extraordinary-circumstances and having to stand up. But she does this while being neither an utterly useless burden in need of carrying nor by being super-woman who effortlessly masters skills she shouldn’t have. She relies on her team, but also contributes to it. She makes mistakes and she makes bad decisions, but they’re bad decisions that are understandable given the circumstances, emotion and lack of options. It’s also interesting that she is described as unattractive or vaguely “plain” even before the book starts and during the book gains a substantial facial scar. This appears not to be a classic case of she-doesn’t-know-she’s-beautiful Urban Fantasy thing but a character who just isn’t classically beautiful and is in denial. Romance also doesn’t appear to be a major element of her story despite some do-si-so between her and Walker.