THE NATIVE STAR
M. K. Hobson
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
M. K. Hobson's debut novel, The Native Star goes against the current trends by being set during the 1870s with barely a hint of steampunk. Instead, Hobson's world is a magical world of conspiracies and secret societies, populated by Warlocks and witches who are seen as outcasts by the vast majority of the population, but still manage to retain a position within society, although that position can vary from the sort of hedge witch found in small towns to powerful and politically connected men.
The novel focuses on a hedge witch, Emily Edwards, who lives in the middle of nowhere in Lost Pine, a mining and lumbering town. After she casts a love spell-gone wrong on local lumber baron Dag Hansen, she finds herself facing off against zombies in the company of Dreadnought Stanton, a New York warlock whose sense of superiority Emily finds insufferable. A strange blue rock gets embedded in Emily's hand and Stanton informs her that the only way to remove the rock, and the love spell she cast on Hansen, is to travel with him to San Francisco. Their resulting travels take them much further than the city by the bay as the two make a cross-country trip chased by various cabals who want to capture Emily for their own purposes.
It is clear that wielders of magic are frowned upon by society as a whole, but can be seen as useful by certain elements. Warlocks and witches, therefore are allowed to thrive, the results being secret societies, unions, and an official military unit. All of these groups seem to want to get Emily, or at least the blue rock in her hand. While Emily and Stanton know the danger she's in, neither completely understand the purpose the blue rock serves, or how it can be used by others, except that it acts as a depressor of magic within a small radius.
Although unworldly and, perhaps, a little naive, Emily is a fully competent woman. Unable to rely on the magical ability she practices as a hedge witch in Lone Pine, she must make due with her wits and ability to adapt to a new world, whether it is the big city of San Francisco, or masquerading as a man in order to shake off the people who are searching for a man and woman traveling together. Not only does Emily learn to rely on Stanton, but she also makes friends with a young orphan, Rose, and learns not to trust people like Caul, who is leading the military's offensive against her. Most importantly, Emily learns to rely upon herself and not worry when men like Stanton, Caul, or Mirabilis, of the vaunted Mirabilis Institute attempt to guide her for their own purposes.
The Native Star is the first book of a series (followed by The Hidden Goddess, 2011) and Hobson leaves some secrets of Emily's past hidden at the end of the book. Nevertheless, The Native Star reaches a satisfactory conclusion with Emily and Stanton having arrived at their destination and dealt with the immediate issue of the stone in Emily's hand. Their relationship has progressed from the point where Emily viewed Stanton as a big-city interloper into her organized world and she has begun to take control of her own destiny, in no small part thanks to Miss Pendennis, of the Witches' union.
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