In Charlaine Harris’ new Gunnie Rose series, the United States collapsed when FDR was assassinated and Vice President Garner succumbed to the influenza pandemic that wracked the country, killing millions. With the federal government largely out of the picture, Canada and Mexico each annexed parts of the country — significant parts, in the case of Canada. What remained of the U.S. broke up into five smaller nation-states, along geographic and cultural lines. The New England states plus the Carolinas and Virgínia established close ties with Britain, even naming themselves Brittania.
California had given the Russian Tsar and his family refuge following their escape from the Bolsheviks, and asked him to take over the government when the country fell apart; the West Coast from San Diego to as far north as southern Washington (Seattle was now part of Canada) was now known as the Holy Russian Empire. The Midwest and much of the West was now known as New America; an exception was Texahoma, a small state consisting of parts of Texas and Oklahoma, along with the bottom corner of Colorado. The fifth, and poorest, nation-state was Dixie, segregated before the fall and even more so now, with the Black population persecuted and abused in the rigidly stratified society.
In this second book in the series, 19 year old Gunnie Lizbeth Rose has just signed up with a new crew that’s been hired to deliver a small crate to the town of Sally, in Dixie. Traveling by train, the group is attacked en route by two men with guns (neither survives the encounter), and then just as they arrive at Sally the train is bombed and derailed, and multiple attackers come for them before being fought off.
The surviving members of the crew are assisted off the train with the crate, but after Lizbeth Rose helped one of their number to medical care, she returned to discover her crew boss dead and the crate stolen. The novel describes her attempts to locate the crate and complete the crew’s contract.
Happily (for both their and the reader’s sakes) and apparently coincidentally, one of the first people she meets is Sally is Eli, the Russian mage who was her employer and romantic interest in the first book in the series. As they share a goal in locating the chest, she agrees to work for him again.
The plot is convoluted and Byzantine, and Lizbeth Rose’s voice as narrator is perfectly written. The descriptions of Dixie’s inhabitants, both Black and White, feel painfully accurate. Charlaine Harris continues to be one of the top writers in the genre, even when there are no vampires involved in the story.