Native Star by M.K. Hobson (Fantasy/Steampunk, 2010, 387 pages)
Native Star recounts the adventures of Emily Edwards, a witch from a backwater, wild west town. Headstrong and opinionated–yet still rather naive–Emily is swept off on a cross-country quest when she inadvertently bonds with an unstable chunk of magical stone (the titular native star). Joined by snobby, uptight warlock, Dreadnought Stanton (no, I’m not making that up), she finds herself racing against time and a host of devious bad guys who want nothing more than to get their hands on the stone–whether or not it’s still embedded in Emily’s hand. There’s plenty of high stakes action, romance, and magic to keep the reader well entertained.
I was impressed with the way Hobson unfolded the plot of Native Star. In particular, the author does a great job of pacing and upping the stakes throughout the story. Each time you feel you have a handle on what Emily and Dreadnought will do to save themselves, Hobson changes the stakes and moves the plot in a believable but not wholly expected direction. This kept my interest and made it hard to put the book down. The character development is also fairly well done. Emily and Dreadnought both have likable and unlikable qualities and both grow and change in ways that are consistent with their backgrounds and the things they experience during their journey.
A few small nits are worth mentioning – first, the novel really only has minor streampunk elements (most notably a pretty darn cool biomechanical flying machine), but aside from a prosaic steam engine train, these elements are largely unnecessary to the plot; the story could have been told just as well without them. There are also moments where the narration style vacillates unexpectedly. For much of the story I felt I wasn’t meant to take anything too seriously — it was all just a fun romp. Then an odd, deeply serious mood would fall over certain passages and I felt I had wandered into a wholly different story. This isn’t really a bad thing, but I did find it a bit jarring.
In sum, though, Native Star is a fast, fun read with interesting characters and a cool setting (I’ve always been a sucker for early American history). The story is a stand-alone with a proper well-wrapped-up ending, but it does seem to leave the door open for a sequel.
Anyone else read this one? Thoughts?