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The Native Star by M.K. Hobson

September 17, 2010

I loved this book. It was that rare thing–a book picked up at random, purchased on impulse and enjoyed with pleasant surprise. I was attracted to the cover initially, but the description on the back of the book convinced me I’d found a winner:

The year is 1876. In the small Sierra Nevada settlement of Lost Pine, the town witch, Emily Edwards, is being run out of business by an influx of mail-order patent magics. Attempting to solve her problem with a love spell, Emily only makes things worse. But before she can undo the damage, an enchanted artifact falls into her possession—and suddenly Emily must flee for her life, pursued by evil warlocks who want the object for themselves.

Dreadnought Stanton, a warlock from New York City whose personality is as pompous and abrasive as his name, has been exiled to Lost Pine for mysterious reasons. Now he finds himself involuntarily allied with Emily in a race against time—and across the United States by horse, train, and biomechanical flying machine—in quest of the great Professor Mirabilis, who alone can unlock the secret of the coveted artifact. But along the way, Emily and Stanton will be forced to contend with the most powerful and unpredictable magic of all—the magic of the human heart.

I thought, Yes! A book to satisfy my passions for Steampunk and romance. I brought the book home and quickly discovered that people had started posting about in on the AAR boards already, voicing positive opinions. I got even more excited and impatient to start it. It was worth the wait.

Since the description from Amazon pretty much tells you the plot-line, I’ll only add a few things: This story encompasses Emily and Stanton’s race across the United States, from California to New York. The enchanted artifact that the blurb mentions is more than simply in Emily’s possession–it’s embedded in her hand and cannot be removed. The artifact, furthermore, nullifies any magic Emily tries to perform.

Hobson is a skilled world-builder. Comparisons are supposed to be odious–but I was reminded of the world of Harry Potter. Not that the two books are similar, but in that Hobson adds details about her magical world that make the book very fun. This was one of the things I liked best about the J.K. Rowling books, too. I also liked that the use of magic was cyclical and that as more humans began to demand more magic, things got out of balance and consequences ensued. Sound familiar? Could this be a metaphor for, I don’t know, the world’s dependency on oil? At the very least, Hobson makes it clear that magic, in her world, does not come free. It’s a system and therefor, by definition, interdependent.

The other wonderful thing about this book was the characters. Emily does not exactly start the book as the best character ever, but she’s refreshingly strong-minded and quick-thinking. She learns from her mistakes and sets out to correct them. She holds her own against the horrifyingly named Deadnought Stanton and most other antagonists she comes up against. She does not meekly follow Stanton across the country. Even better, Emily has lived in her small California hometown of Lost Pine her whole life. She is learning about Hobson’s magical world as we are–and this saves us from a lot of exposition. If there’s something she doesn’t understand, Emily demands enlightenment and gets it, for herself and the readers. Emily was a great heroine and I couldn’t help but feel that it’s too bad she’s fictional.

Emily’s counterpart in The Native Star was the before mentioned Dreadnought Stanton. As the novel starts, Emily and Stanton have already met. She’s the backwoods witch and he’s the warlock from the city. Their relationship is initially antagonistic; Stanton is arrogant, condescending and rude. So, of course, I loved him immediately. I already posted my favorite excerpt from Stanton, but it’s so great it bears repeating:

(from page 43)

Stanton leaned back in his chair and assumed an infuriatingly pedantic air. “Zombies are soulless creatures, and being soulless has been empirically proven to result in an unpleasant disposition.”

and this, from page 70

“We should make good time today.” Stanton’s pleased tone suggested that making good time was a virtue right up there with Justice, Courage, Wisdom and Moderation.

I lurved Stanton, right along with Emily. I don’t think that’s giving too much away–it says as much on the back page. He’s a Darcy-like hero. Intelligent, haughty, impatient, brave, tortured, powerful, and unintentionally hilarious. Although, that doesn’t exactly describe Darcy. Well, they have a few things in common.

As for the plot, I thought it was great fun. I’m not usually one for travel stories, but I thought this one went well. I also have to admit that I enjoyed the smidgen of uncertainty that I felt about whether or not there would be a happy ending. I knew that, this not being a Paranormal Romance, it was possible that Awful Things Could Happen on the last page. It gave the book an added element of deliciousness. And I wasn’t wrong–the end is enough to satisfy my need for romance, but it’s not exactly a happily ever after.

I also liked delving into an magical, historical America. The only other book I’ve read like that is The Thirteenth Child by Patricia Wrede. The Native Star does it better–and it’s for grown-ups.

I’ll cap off this review with a piece of good news: Hobson has written a sequel called The Hidden Goddess. It’s due out in May 2011. Here’s the description from the author’s website. I don’t think is contains any spoilers for the first book, but continue with caution anyway.

Being engaged to a socially-prominent warlock in 19th century New York can be daunting—especially if you’re a witch from a small town in California who’s never sat at a dinner table with more than one fork.

A month has passed since the adventures that brought Emily Edwards from Lost Pine to New York City, but navigating New York magical society is as taxing and treacherous as anything she’s faced so far. Emily’s future mother-in-law is a sociopathic socialite who is not at all pleased with her only son’s choice of a bride. Dreadnought Stanton—Emily’s fiance—has a dark past which has by no means given up all its secrets. And Emily’s own past may hold answers that a shadowy group of Russian scientists will give anything to possess.

Emily will have to brave all these challenges—not to mention an ancient sect of Aztec blood-sorcerers bent on plunging the world into apocalypse—if she and Dreadnought are to have any hope of living happily ever after.

The fact that this was the first book in what might be a series takes care of my only squabbles with the book. In the beginning, Emily is all about her Pap–the man who raised her and taught her magic. But there is little to no mention of him at the end of the book, which seems odd given that Emily will most likely not be returning to live in Lost Pine. Her devotion to her Pap appears to just slide away, forgotten. The other item that’s never resolved is the mystery of Emily’s heritage. Who is her mother? Where did she come from? What is her connection to the Sons of the Earth? Squeefully, a sequel gives Hobson plenty of time to address these conundrums in the next book.

I really, truly, hope you pick up The Native Star. It’s great for readers of historical fantasy, especially fans of Steampunk, though I should warn you that this is Steampunk-light. By which I mean, Hobson’s world-building focus is more on the magical element of her world than on the Steampunk aspect.

See you tomorrow for another Steampunk offering–Cassandra Clare’s The Clockwork Angel.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Camille Alexa permalink
    September 18, 2010 12:47 pm

    I loved Stanton too!

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