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.
This is probably the first book I’ve read in a while that didn’t have some sort of serious or thought-provoking element. Instead, this book was fun. It’s like Wild, Wild, West, but with magic instead of steampunk. I mean, how can this not be awesome?
I absolutely adored the setting. Yes, I have a tendency to romanticize the historical American West, which I know is not a good thing to do, but I continue to hold a soft spot in my heart for that particular location in time. Blame it on reading Laura Ingalls Wilder too many times as a kid. Really, a lot of the fun is in the fact that the circumstances and scope of the story read like something out of a penny dreadful, which means there’s a ton of adventure, a healthy dose of danger, and a host of larger-than-life characters. It’s a romp, but it’s a well-written romp.
I also loved how magic was incorporated into this alt-historical American world such that it felt like a natural part of American history. There are three types of magic – credomancy (power derived from belief or faith), sangrimancy (blood magic, which is particularly nasty) and animancy (spirit magic derived from living things, such as herbs). Each one occupies a different sphere in this world. Credomancy, for example is the type of magic one learns at special institutes and is usually practiced by those in the upper class. On the other hand, people in certain branches of the military practice sangrimancy as a weapon of warfare, as was the case in the Civil War. Although it’s not expanded upon too much, there’s even some hints that while magic may be fully incorporated into American society, the advent of science and scientific theories may eventually draw the two disciplines into contention.
The main characters were also a lot of fun to read about. Emily comes really close to acting like a petulant child at times (even though she’s twenty-five) but largely manages to avoid that trap. Practicing witchcraft in a small farmer’s town, she never expected to have a magical artifact stuck in her hand, nor is she ready for all the trouble that artifact brings down on her head. She’s now dependent on the efforts of Stanton Dreadnought, a stiff, pompous credomancer from back East, to travel to the Mirabilis Institute in New York to remove the Native Star from her hand. Given his tendency to be more knowledgeable than Emily about everything and her utter dislike of Stanton’s smugness, their interactions with each other usually consist of snide remarks, sharp retorts, and quippy comebacks, all of which make for enjoyable reading. The two are such polar opposites in terms of upbringing and background in magic that they can’t help but clash. The story does involve the two of them falling in love, but I wasn’t particularly interested in that development. There wasn’t anything objectionable about it, but the romance was always ancillary to the main plot and I thought the latter was more developed than the former.
The latter third of the book did disappoint me somewhat in that the Mirabilis Institute wasn’t as impressive or powerful as I think it was intended to be. In addition, the resolution of the plot has some hiccups. It does connect back to the prologue in the very beginning, but in a particularly roundabout route. In addition, the book spends a significant amount of time making the threat out to be Caul, the warlock who chases Emily and Stanton across the country, and who desires the Native Star as a defense against his own threat. However, the actual climax of the book focuses on the aberrancies, which were presented as more of a case-by-case threat rather than an overarching threat. With Caul, it felt like an entire thread that had propelled the plot forward was dropped.
I read this book over Fall Break and it was the perfect book for that time. It’s an entertaining, comforting read that delivers exactly what it promises – a magical, Western adventure, complete with romance. Truth be told, I already suspect that the sequel won’t be as good as the first book, but I still really like the world and the magic system the author’s created, and Emily and Stanton are good characters. The Native Star was a lot of fun, so I’ll eventually pick up The Hidden Goddess.
Disclosure – library