The Native Star is the third 2010 Nebula-nominated novel that I've read, and with its combination of fantasy and historical romance, it's by far the most satisfying to my reading tastes. I'm not too sure how it will fare in the voting, but I'll definitely be rooting for it. It wasn't hard for me to love this story. Set in an alternate version of America in 1876, MK Hobson has created a world where Witches and Warlocks run academies, serve in the military, and for the most part, can respectably walk through cities and towns. Emily Edwards is a backwaters Witch in a very small lumber town out West, fashioning a love spell that she doesn't know is about to get her into a lot of trouble. Dreadnought Stanton is a know-it-all Institute-trained Warlock from New York assigned to educate Witches and Warlocks in the Sierra Nevadas (which in this case meant Emily and her adoptive Pap, and Emily's not too pleased about it). When one action-packed night finds a strange and powerful mineral embedded in Emily's hand, the unlikely couple must join forces to unlock its mysteries and keep it away from those who would wield its power for evil.
The tone of the story is geared towards romantic fantasy, so I have a feeling it will take an awfully-secure male fantasy fan to read through this and appreciate the sprawling epic adventure that it draws. And epic is the right term: the novel takes Emily and Stanton from California to Chicago to New York to Charleston in grand Americana fashion. They ride horses, trains, and flying machines. They visit gambling dens and whitewashed towns. They even hold seances to talk to an Indian wise woman in an acorn. With all the running around these two do, it seems like such a shame that male readers might be put off by the romance element. And there's plenty to cheer for when it comes to romance; fans will certainly enjoy the banter between Emily and Stanton, who have interesting back stories to lug around. Emily, who gets flashes of her early life with a mysterious mother she barely knew, is charming and enterprising enough as most protagonists go. But she is not entirely faultless; in fact, she has marked prejudices that keep her from being a true Mary-Sue character. Also intriguing for me are the antagonists. I think Ms Hobson has a knack for creating truly menacing and memorable villains in Captain Caul and Grimaldi. They gave me the same kind of chills that I had while reading about the Chaos Walking trilogy's Mayor Prentiss.
There were times when my interest wasn't as sustained as it had been in the beginning, but it's probably because of my ambivalence to the circumstances that have engaged the protagonists rather than a noticeable dip in action. But all things considered, The Native Star was an extremely satisfying and engaging read that struck just the right balance between two of my favorite genres. I couldn't put this one down.