It took longer than I'd expected it would, but I finally finished The Native Star, by M.K. Hobson (Spectra, 2010). I'd actually never heard of the thing until I read about it on Felicia Day's Twitter -- take that, detractors of social media! But I heard about it, I looked it up, I read it, and I'm glad if not thrilled I did.
It seems a strange thing, but I'd actually expected to not like this book, and here's why: from the beginning, I'd thought the thing was going to be a sort of steampunk bodice-ripper, with gentlemen engaged in ungentlemanly conduct with women in corsets, and maybe some sort of plot tacked on about a mad scientist hell-bent on destroying the world with a steam-and-magic-powered robot, or something equally ridiculous. Background? World development? Who needs them when there are corsets and robots!
Now, don't get me wrong -- that could be a perfectly fun guilty pleasure, even for a completely heterosexual guy like me. But I don't normally consider paperback romances to be the high point of literature (I think I'm safe in assuming that?). And that's basically what I'd expected this book to be, so I wasn't expecting much.
Happily, this book no such thing. It's a serious work of steampunk fantasy fiction, the likes of which there need to be more, with plot and characters and world development all at the forefront. Indeed, the titillation was virtually nonexistent (almost disappointingly so), enough to make one wonder if Ms. Hobson's sensibilities are every bit as Victorian as her characters'. But I digress.
The characters of country witch Emily Edwards and Big City warlock Dreadnought Stanton are reasonably well thought-out and developed, though I didn't think they really had the kind of chemistry they could have, and that their blossoming romance (yes, there is some of that) was sped along a little too hastily and could have been developed more. That Emily chooses Stanton over her original love, Dag, is as far-fetched as it is predictable.
(Don't worry, I haven't spoiled anything for you. Although I'd be deeply amused if the inevitable sequel spawned Team Dag and Team Dreadnought fan clubs.)
Remember where I said that this is a serious work, where plot and world-development were actually thought-out and developed, and not just tacked on? Well, therein lies the rub. The Native Star sometimes gets a little caught up in its own seriousness, and the story stumbles a bit around Ms. Hobson's attempts to explain the differences and conflicts between the various forms and philosophies of magic in her world, enough that I feel like the final conflict of the story could have been saved for the sequel and a lighter, less global-crisis sort of adventure might have better served this first book.
That all said, it's executed fairly well, in a summer blockbuster sort of way -- a good summer blockbuster sort of way -- and there's more than enough material for that inevitable sequel I keep mentioning. (Obviously I don't know whether or not there will be such a book, but c'mon. C'mon.)
In all, I'm looking forward to good things from Hobson, and I think if she can take her time instead of trying to cram everything into one story, then we'll be in for a hell of a ride soon enough.