M. K. Hobson, The Native Star (Bantam Spectra, 2011)

Emily Edwards may be a simple nineteenth-century mountain witch living in the rural mining town of Lost Pines tucked way up into the Sierra Nevada mountains, but she sure knows how to cast a mean love spell. Some rhyming words, a little naked dancing under the trees, a bit of lavender -- too much lavender, as it turns out -- and the most eligible bachelor in Lost Pines will be hers.

But being mindlessly adored by a man you've known since childhood doesn't turn out to be as rewarding as it might be. Especially when a certain snooty east-coast wizard is always around pointing out where you went wrong. Good thing Emily can focus on nullifying the threat of the rampaging zombie miners to avoid facing bigger problems, like love. Zombie miners, magic-bloated raccoons the size of furry whales, witch hunters, enigmatic Indian wise women, mind-puppet assassins and evil blood sorcerers all prove to be equally handy distractions. If only Emily can make her way from California to New York, everything can be set right . . . can't it?

In her debut book, The Native Star, Hobson paints the portrait of an alternate 1876 America. Witches are struggling to obtain legitimacy in a misogynistic good-old-boys wizard club. The Native American population is feeling the squeeze, pulp serials inflame the public imagination, females are still hobbled by corsets and bustles, and the United States military secretly employs powerful magics to shore up national identity and security. Booming industry and a rapidly changing social and economic landscape set the scene for abusive magical machinations in every arena, which unchecked may destroy the world.

If there was a shelf in your local library for Alternate American History Weird West Steampunk Romance Adventure Fantasy, The Native Star would be there. There's no other novel quite like it, nor is there likely to be until the release of the second planned book in the series.

Highly recommended to those seeking a fast-paced read with unique fantastical elements and rich, tightly-woven magical, social, and historical detail. A real ride.

[Camille Alexa]