May 192015

Cover for Vermilion by Molly TanzerForeword:  Genre-bending, gender-bending, dialect-filled, and fascinating, this steampunk novel handles old West racism with humor and grit. Lou Merriwether is a “psychopomp”—she has the ability to help spirits stuck in the land of the living cross over to the land of the dead. A well-wrought character, she dresses androgynously and often passes as a man; and as an Asian American, she handles Old West racism with humor and grit. Molly Tanzer’s steampunk world layers the rough Old West of goldrush San Francisco with the influx of Chinese immigrants and the Victorian propriety and technology attendant with the genre.

…But what is perhaps best done in the novel is the paranormal world building, shown as Lou does her work amongst spirits, from the gadgets and potions she uses to her means of communication—for Lou “the dead were so much easier to manage,” than the living. Sentence for sentence, Tanzer demonstrates a strong sense of language and place, and as a whole, the world is a place which definitely demonstrates influences (anthropomorphic bears call to mind The Golden Compass; Lou’s duster and shotgun, Pretty Deadly), but is wholly unique and pleasurable to become enveloped by.