Cowboys and gunslingers meet wizards in this high fantasy inspired by the American Wild West. Silas Vendine is a mage and bounty hunter, on the hunt for renegade mages. He's also a freedom fighter, sworn to protect the non-magical people of the Wildings from ambitious mages both lawless and lawful. It's a dangerous life, and Silas knows it. Still, when he comes to the town of Bitterbush Springs, he finds far more trouble and excitement than he bargained for...
On the trail of a dangerous rogue mage, Silas meets Lainie Banfrey, a young woman both drawn to and terrified of her own developing magical powers. Though Lainie has been taught all her life to hate and fear wizards, she and Silas team up to stop the renegade who has brought her hometown to the brink of open warfare. The hunt takes them deep beneath forbidden lands held by the hostile A'ayimat people, where only Silas's skills and Lainie's untamed, untrained power can save them from the rogue mage and the dark magic he has loosed into the world.
Halland creates a fully-realized frontier world, and stirs magic in as if it's belonged there from the start. Amidst adventure and danger, the people of her West wrestle with the subtle truths that determine loyalty, morality, and even the acceptability of love. The strength of the romance matches the intensity of the menacing enemies and wild magic. – Blair MacGregor
"What could possibly improve a good old-fashioned western? Why, a little magic, that's what. Yes, folks, what we have here is a western/fantasy mash-up, complete with horses tied up outside the saloon, gambling and whoring inside, and gunfights in the street, but some of the people wearing the big hats are mages, and the mining going on in the hills is digging up something a lot more powerful than gold. And is it fun? You betcha."– Pauline M. Ross
"This book had me from page one. It has fantasy, mystery, and western with a great romance plot throughout. The intrigue kept me turning the page, and the well-developed characters made me care about what would happen next ... There are western shootouts and farm hands looking out for their boss's daughter. There were other magical races with an interest in one of the main characters. And there is a romance that changes the course of two character's lives."– Amazon Review
"Beneath the Canyons by Kyra Halland is an interesting read. Wild West meets fantasy, meets magic and add in a bit of romance and mystery and you have the ingredients of a good story. Kyra Halland is a good storyteller and the vivid descriptions certainly make the Wild West come to life. The characters are well drawn and totally individual characters ...The language is believable and easy to read, the descriptions picturesque and vivid and the setting of the Wild West superb."– Amazon Review
A stable stood between Mundy's Boarding House and the half-built hotel. A boy was tossing pebbles into a circle scratched in the dirt of the stable yard; Silas rode over and gave the boy a penny to watch Abenar and his belongings for a moment. He pulled on his long brown duster, which he had shed in the heat of the day and draped over the saddle behind him, then headed to the boarding house to inquire about a room.
A crash from inside the saloon across the street caught his attention. He turned to see a big-bellied, bushy-bearded man come flying backwards through the swinging doors of the Bootjack. The man landed on his back in the street, then leaped to his feet with surprising speed for a fellow his size. A second, much thinner, man charged out of the saloon and plowed into him, knocking him down again. The two men tussled in a cloud of dust, rolling along the street until they came to a stop in front of the boarding house, the skinny man pinning the bearded man face down with a knee in the small of his back.
"I ever catch you blasting on my land again, I'll draw an' quarter you an' chop you up for dog feed!" the skinny man yelled. "You hear me, Gobby?"
In a blur of motion, Gobby twisted out from under the other man and dropped him with a blow to the jaw that sounded like an axe thunking into wood. "You threatening me, Dinsin? Cause if you're gonna threaten me, you better be ready to back it up!"
"Yeah, he's threatening you," said a man with an extravagant mustache who stood in front of the Bootjack. His right hand dropped to the holster at his hip and came up holding a six-shooter aimed straight at Gobby. "An' I'll back up his threats for him."
The gun was also aimed straight at Silas. If he threw a protective shield around himself, it would give away his presence to any other mages who might be around, and the mage-hating Plain folk of the town would notice the bullets, slowed by their passage through the shield, dropping harmlessly to the ground. So, instead, Silas stepped back into the shadows of the covered wooden sidewalk in front of the rooming house and edged out of the line of fire.
A handful of men burst out through the swinging door of the saloon next door, the Rusty Widow, to see what was going on. Gobby stood up slowly, turning to face the mustached man with the gun. He was now also holding a gun. "Well, Winnard?" he said. "You think you can beat me?"
"I can –"
A gunshot exploded from the group in front of the Rusty Widow. Winnard tumbled back against the wall of the Bootjack and collapsed, blood spreading across the right shoulder of his shirt. More men came pouring out from both saloons and wild gunfire erupted from both sides of the street. A handful of stray bullets hit the wall of the boarding house next to Silas; holding onto his hat, he dove aside and hit the sidewalk.
A wild burst of magical power, panicked and uncontrolled, strong enough that he could feel it even with his shield in place, came from up the street. Granadaian power, but different; Silas recognized it from the brief flares of magic that had led him to Bitterbush Springs. He started to raise his head to look for the source of the magic, then a bullet split a board in the wall of the rooming house not one arm-length above him. He pressed himself even flatter against the boards of the sidewalk as the gunfire went on, praying to the Defender that the unwritten law of the Wildings that it was an even worse crime to kill a horse than a man would keep the gunfire away from the stables and Abenar.
All at once the shooting stopped. "What's all this, boys?" a deep, resonant voice called out from nearby.
Now Silas raised his head. Three men lay sprawled in the street. One was writhing in pain, the other two were still. The combatants who were still standing had all lowered their guns and were looking at the Rusty Widow. Silas turned his head to follow their gaze. A tall man with a hearty build, handsome, pale face, and luxuriant black mustache was standing in front of the saloon. He wore a finely-fashioned black suit and black flat-brimmed hat, and had a lace-and-ruffle-bedecked house lady clinging to each arm.
Silas stood up, making sure his hat was still in place, and brushed dust from his long brown coat. He kept close to the wall, in the shadow of the overhang, curious about this man who had the power to stop a gunfight just by appearing.
"Dinsin an' Winnard threatened me, Mr. Carden, sir," Gobby said. "Me an' the fellas was just defending ourselves."
"Go back inside, my dears," the black-suited man said to the house ladies. "No need to worry yourselves." The ladies retreated into the saloon, and Carden stepped down from the wooden walkway into the street. He stopped in front of Gobby, shaking his head. "Don't tell me you went into the Bootjack again, Gobby," he said. "You know damn well that's rancher territory. You're stupid enough to keep going in there, you deserve whatever you get." Though the words were harsh, the deep voice was genial. The crispness of a Granadaian accent underlaid his informal Wildings speech.
"When are you gonna start paying us for the ore that was taken off our land, Carden?" shouted Winnard, the wounded man in front of the Bootjack. The right side of his shirt was soaked with blood, but judging by the anger in his voice, he was a long way from dead.
"If you have a difference with me, Winnard, I'd be happy to discuss it peacefully," Carden replied, with just the hint of an edge to his friendly voice and polite words. "There's no need for anyone to be shooting anyone else."
Two men helped Winnard up, then they and several other men who had come from the Bootjack walked over to Carden and started arguing with him. Gobby and some of the men from the Rusty Widow joined in. A whip-thin, bandy-legged man with the silver sword-shaped badge of a sheriff pinned to his shirt came over as well, but he stood back and remained silent.
Silas couldn't make out what the men were saying, but their argument wasn't what interested him the most at the moment. Taking care to avoid attracting the attention of the angry men, he walked up the street in the direction the burst of magic had come from. On the other side of the street, in front of a shop that advertised saddlery, harnessing, and leather goods, a youth was hunkered down behind a barrel, arms wrapped around his knees.
Silas crossed the street and approached the barrel. When he got close enough, he realized that what he had taken for a young teenage boy was actually a small, slender young woman wearing men's clothing – brown canvas pants, a green plaid shirt, boots, and a straw hat with a curved brim like those favored by cowhands. A long braid of light reddish-brown hair trailed down her back from under the hat. When Silas first came to the Wildings, it had taken him a while to get used to the sight of women wearing men's clothes. In Granadaia, not even the lowliest Plain peasant woman would be caught dead in pants and a man's shirt, but in the Wildings, practicality ruled all. There was men's work and there was women's work, but mostly there was just work that needed to be done by whoever was ready, willing, and able to do it, and for a lot of that work, skirts would only get in the way.
The young woman had her face buried against her knees and she was shaking badly. Silas said, "I think they're done for the day." With a startled movement, she raised her head and looked up at him out of wide hazel eyes, set in a delicate face with a dusting of freckles across her nose. He guessed she was maybe nineteen or twenty. "You okay?" he asked.
Slowly, she took a deep breath and seemed to relax. "Yeah," she said. "I'm okay. I just hate it when they start shooting like that."
"Does this happen often?"
"About once a nineday or more, lately. My brother got caught in it a few months ago. Shot dead, right through the heart. He was just minding his own business when the damned fools come out an' start shooting."
"I'm sorry," Silas said, though the words seemed completely inadequate. The Wildings was dangerous country; in a lot of places, every man was a law unto himself. But in a reasonably well-established town, it was unusual to have full-blown shootouts erupting every nineday. "What about the sheriff?" He jerked his head in the direction of the man with the silver badge, who was still standing silently by the arguing men.
"Huh. He just says 'Yes, Mr. Carden' and 'No, Mr. Carden' and 'Whatever you say, Mr. Carden.' It's Carden running this town and his miners causing all the trouble. Damned sheriff's no use at all."
Interesting. It sounded like the typical sort of trouble that might be stirred up by a rogue mage. Was a rogue trying to interfere with Carden's mining operation? Silas generally didn't expect to find renegade mages doing honest work; they were more likely to be robbing banks, selling fake medicines, cheating respectable widows out of their inheritances and their virtue, or stealing some honest man's business out from under him, all with the illicit aid of magic. Silas let down the shield on his power just a bit and did a quick, discreet scan with his mage senses, but found no signs of any power in the area except for the girl's. Then he did a more careful survey, looking for the subtle signs of shielded power, the nearly invisible seams and slight flaws in the camouflage, and still found nothing.
Well, there were plenty of non-magical troublemakers in the Wildings, too. "You need any help?" he asked the girl.
"No, thanks." She got to her feet, brushing dust off her pants. She also wore a gunbelt with a holstered revolver that was small enough to fit her hand. Silas was sure she knew how to use the gun, but couldn't blame her for not wanting to get involved in the shootout. "I better get on with my errands before they start shooting again," she said. She turned to look at the group of arguing men in the street. "Hey, Gobby!" she shouted. The bearded man looked over at her. "The same thing from my Pa! He ever catches you on his land again, he'll shoot you so full of holes you can piss from ten places at once!"
The dark, bushy beard broke into a leering smile. "Miss Lainie, you tell your Pa for me that this land ain't owned by no one an' I'll drill wherever, whenever, an' –" he leered more broadly "– whoever I want."
Miss Lainie responded with a rude gesture. Gobby went red above his beard, and the men from the Bootjack laughed. One corner of Silas's mouth quirked up. She had spirit; he liked that. He offered an arm to the young woman. "I'd be happy to escort you while you do your business, in case there's any more trouble."
She eyed him head to toe, her gaze lingering on the large revolver holstered at his left hip. Though firearms were considered anti-magical and therefore forbidden in Granadaia, no mage hunter would last a nineday in the Wildings without one. Silas had specially modified this piece himself; mundane bullets alone couldn't be depended on to take down a highly skilled mage. "My Pa don't like me going around with strange men," she said.
"Well, then. I'm Silas Vendine." He added the usual name-slip charm as he spoke his name, to make it harder to remember, though it didn't always work very well with other mages. Then he grinned at her. "I may be strange, but at least now you know my name."
That got a smile from her, a shy half-smile as she glanced away. "All right, then, Mr. Vendine. I'm Lainie Banfrey. If you'll keep Gobby away from me while I do my business at Minton's, I'd be grateful. My Pa's foreman should be over at the cattlemen's co-op; he'll see me home."