Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Native Star by M.K. Hobson

Native Star is set in 19th century America, an America which is vaguely steampunky, but much more magical. Both sides in the Civil War used magic, which is presently divided into three schools: animancy (that may not be right, but it's close), traditional magic using herbs and things from the earth. Credomancy, which uses belief in magic and its abilities to power said abilities. And sangrimancy, blood magic.

The country is expanding fast, and so is the magic business - with, possibly, extremely negative side effects from magic run-off.

Emily lives in a small California town with her adoptive father, with no memory of her mother, who died bringing her there. She and Pap practice traditional magic, but the new wizard in town, a pompous asshat by the name of Dreadnought Stanton, is there to teach them everything they're doing wrong. But Emily's actions mean she ends up with a magical stone embedded in her hand and on the run from credomancers and sangrimancers alike. With Stanton, of course. And do sparks fly? Of course they do.

Which was a bit of a problem for me. The author does such a good job of making Stanton a pretentious jackass at the start of the book that the whole idea that Emily would fall in love with him (and change him for the better) made me annoyed. Some redeeming features, please. I don't buy that he suddenly stops being a jerk.

On the other hand, I did like the way Hobson dealt with certain aspects of this kind of historical fantasy that are often glossed over. Too often, the main characters are the lone proponents of decent liberalism and tolerance in an intolerant society. Women? They believe they're equal. People who are Black, or Native? Everyone else might look down on them, but not our intrepid heroes! I get why this is done, to make characters more palatable, but it's become almost a truism, and often handled very off-handedly, like it's entirely simple for someone to just disregard the cultural background in which they were raised. Why didn't everyone in the 19th century just do it?

Which is not to say I want books full of racism, either. I get why it's done. It's just done sloppily, a lot of the time, and Hobson's tack on it, having Stanton not really respect women, particularly, until Emily beats it into his head, and having Emily share the prejudices against Natives with others in her society until she actually has some dealings with them - these aspects were well and delicately done. It wasn't over-the-top prejudice, but it was dealt with with more complexity than we often see.

But other than that, there wasn't much about this book that grabbed me. I'd put it in the pile with so many others these days, of a book that was fine, that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but never really reached another level. I wouldn't avoid other books by this author, I wouldn't seek them out either. (I need to come up with a shorthand for that.)

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