I became aware of this book through sporadic listening to the Escape Pod Podcasts which is basically an audio zine that publishes short fantasy, science fiction and horror fiction. M.K. Hobson is an occasional contributor and host of the podcast and ever since the book was announced a couple years ago, I have been anxious to get my paws on it. I give this rather boring account just to illustrate that anticipation and expectations were high and Native Star lived up to all my hopes for what I hoped it would be. I LOVE when that happens with a book! I also thought I would recommend the Escape Pod Podcasts for anybody not aware of them – they are great.
Anyway, back to the review…
I tend to enjoy stories of America’s western pioneers, fantastical stories and stories with a little bit of romance. It is no wonder then that I loved Native Star as it contains all of these elements within its pages. It begins in the foothills of the California mountains circa 1876 in the small town of Lost Pine. This is an alternate history, so in the U.S. of this story, magic is widely practiced and studied. In fact M.K. Hobson has built a rather fascinating magical system which draws energy from the earth. There is much debate throughout the books as to whether the source of magic is a sentient entity or just mineral layers deep underground. In some ways this is the story that settles that debate.
Emily Edward’s is Lost Pine’s magic practitioner along with her adopted father Pap and they practice a homey form of earth magic to cure ailments and help with other things. They have recently been beset by university trained warlock, Dreadnought Stanton, who has a sort of University Extension type position requiring him to go out into the community and share his more up to date knowledge of magic with other practitioners. He’s arrogant, pedantic, and patronizing and Emily pretty much loathes him.
A freak accident at a nearby mine throws Emily and Dreadnought together in a perilous adventure that will lead them to the other side of the country in some very jagged lines.
So why did I like it so much?
1)The world building: This is not usually something I really gravitate towards but as previously mentioned the magic system and alternate history presented is very interesting and plausible. Hobson uses her characters well to flesh out the details of the world and how it functions and it never felt forced or awkward. The world building was balanced with well drawn characters and a fantastic plot so it wasn’t the entire meat of the novel.
2)I also really like books which have some humor and this is an area in which Native Star also excels. Dreadnought’s dry sarcastic wit is a joy and it is what keeps him likeable throughout despite his rather snobby and arrogant nature. The delivery by the book’s narrator Suehyla El-Attar was dead on. I wasn’t actually sure at first whether I liked how she read Stanton (very dead-pan, flat, emotionless) but by the end of the book I really liked it.
3)The characters in general, particularly Stanton and Emily are really wonderful. Hobson has a good way of making her imperfect characters exasperating and likeable all at the same time.
4)Stanton and Emily are a really good pair and the way their relationship develops is very realistic and organic.
Basically I found it to be a well constructed and well told story with humor, drama, adventure, aberrant jackrabbits, magic and romance. It was a “pageturner” which may be strange to say for an audio book but basically I was always anxious and happy to get back to listening. It was a lovely way to spend some reading time.