'Vermilion' Finds New Magic In The Old West

April 22, 2015 11:03 AM

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History may be written by the victors, but alternate history is written by anyone with a lust for the past — both established and imagined. Molly Tanzer's imagination is keener than almost anyone's. Her new novel Vermilion is a work of alt-history that finds a fresh kind of magic in the mingling of fact and fantasy. In the book's wild vision of 1870, the North won the Civil War with the help of a race of intelligent, talking bears. A similarly endowed species of sea lion keeps shop in the streets of San Francisco. Ghosts linger to haunt the living, a phenomenon that's considered as much of a pest problem as a supernatural trauma. And a sanatorium in the Colorado Rockies holds a secret that's as sinister as it is spellbinding.

Tanzer is a British Fantasy Award nominee (for her 2012 debut, A Pretty Mouth), but she's American — a fact that's gleefully evident in Vermilion. The book luxuriates in the gritty, hardscrabble texture of the Old West, the creak of russet leather and the construction of the Transcontinental Railroa...

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