Emily Edwards lives with her father in the American mid-west in a tiny backwater called Lost Pine. She has inherited the family trade of magic, casting spells and divinations to help the local community. Her magic is earthy, skilful but she is being out competed by the craze for new mail order magic which is quick, easy and more convenient than Emily’s own homespun spells. Emily is struggling financially and worry for her elderly father drives her to hatch a scheme to cast a love spell on the local business man.
Dreadnought Stanton, a warlock from New York City, has come to Lost Pine. He has been sent there for reasons unknown. Being a modern man, he looks down on Lost Pine and its quaint ways represented by Emily and her more traditional methods of magic.
Emily’s dreams of a secure marriage fail when the love spell backfires with disastrous results. Unfortunately, she is caught in the act by Stanton and his resulting opinion of her could not be lower. Thus the two protagonists are at odds from the get-go.
‘The Native Star’ begins as an enjoyable fantasy western. Everything in the world is the same but different. Magic takes the place of science and is openly used. It even forms the basis for machinery such as organic flying machines in the place of planes.
The story begins in Lost Pine when Emily and Stanton are the only ones to respond to a warning about the local mine. The zombie miners are loose and about to run amok. Emily and Stanton discover that the zombies have unearthed a jewel that is nullifying the magic that keeps them under control. After a narrow escape, Emily comes away with the strange jewel embedded in her hand. Together, they must travel across the country to find Professor Mirabilis, Stanton’s mentor and the only man who may be able to unlock the secrets of the jewel. They are chased by evil warlocks, spirit possessed assassins and nightmare creatures who all want the jewel to aid them in their own dark magic.
‘The Native Star’ was an enjoyable enough read. The pace was quick and the story direct. The plot itself was a simple chase across the country, though I must confess I found the motivations behind it all a bit vague. The jewel seems to represent something bad because everyone says it does. The bad guys want it because they just do.
I did find it a bit confusing throughout, largely due to the author Hobson’s need to constantly introduce new characters, who continued to pop up right to the very end. This was frustrating as it diluted the story and kept moving the focus away from the two protagonists. I think if the story had stuck with and developed the characters it began with then the end may have been far more satisfactory. This is probably why I found the conclusion to be a bit something and nothing, involving as it did new characters only just introduced.
Emily and Stanton never really took off as characters for me, neither. They were one-dimensional and the fact that they started off hating each other before falling in love was very clichéd. What also grated with me was the info dumping in the guise of ‘pompous’ Stanton over-explaining everything to Emily. I understand that she is from a small town and may not know much about the wider world but I think she would have been aware of more than this. While I found what Stanton was saying interesting for the most part, I do hate long passages of dialogue that are so obviously for the reader’s benefit, I think there are more subtler ways of showing the world than one person lecturing another.
The author M.K. Hobson had some splendid ideas, especially at the beginning in Lost Pine. I particularly loved the idea of zombies being used as miners and magic being a commonplace tool with science being widely discredited. That reversal was interesting and I wished it had been made more of.
Overall, ‘The Native Star’ was an easy, undemanding read with only a few minor points that stopped the story from really taking off. The blurb on the book compared this to ‘Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell’ and, while I appreciate that this is what the author was going for, I don’t think this book does well by the comparison.
(pub: Ballantine Books, 2010. 387 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $ 8.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-440-24579-8)
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