A historical fantasy set in 1876 USA.

Publication year: 2010
Format: print
Page count: 387
Publisher: Ballantine

Emily Edwards is a Witch in a remote village called the Lost Pine. Her mother died when she was still a very small child and she was raised by the local Warlock whom she calls Pap. Pap has gone blind and so Emily has taken over the family business of making charms and small spells as well as gathering herbs and making potions. However, most people are starting to buy from a big company Baugh’s Patent Magics and the winters are getting leaner so Emily decides that the best way to secure any kind of future for her and Pap, is for her to marry a wealthy man. Fortunately for her, she has grown up with Dag Hansen who is altogether a decent man. So, she casts a love spell on him. Unfortunately, it goes terribly wrong.

The next evening in the dance the local drunk soothsayer tells everyone that Emily has done some bad magic and that the Corpse Switch has failed. The Corpse Switch is a device which (sort of) controls the zombies which are working in the local mine. They’ve never failed before so nobody believes that it could fail now. However, Emily goes to check it and is joined by Dreadnought Stanton, an uppity Warlock from the East who has come to educate the local yokels about modern sorcery.

But the Switch has failed. Emily and Stanton have to defend themselves against zombies and in the fray Emily ends up grasping a strange, large stone. It sticks inside her hand. Stanton knows that it’s a very powerful magical item, called the Evening Star. It’s formed from a mineral which can store magic, so Emily can’t do any spells as long as the stone is imbedded into her hand. She’s desperate to get it out so Stanton offers to take her to San Francisco where is the closest branch office of Dr. Mirabilis’ Magical Institute. Stanton has the Jefferies Chair there, so he’s sure that the Institute will help Emily and also pay her handsomely for the stone. Emily doesn’t have a choice, so she agrees. But soon they’re running from powerful enemies.

The setting was great! The magic is detailed and convincing. Most people accept magic as part of society and use it just as cheerfully as scientific gadgets today. But there is one sect of religious people who abhor magic and are trying to turn the people against witches and warlocks. The magic users are split into three groups: animancers, who practice Emily’s type of “earthern, small” magic, credomancers who use belief, and sacrimangers who require human blood to do magic. The split is most prominent in the big cities and Emily doesn’t even know about the other two before Stanton tells her. Unfortunately, this being a historical story, all of the men in the story treat women condescendingly at best and with outright misogyny at worst. In addition the (male) warlocks all seem to think that (female) witches are pretty much whores.

Emily is a great heroine; she’s duty-bound to help poor Dag and that’s why she want get to Frisco as soon as possible. Stanton has two large horses so they ride there even though Emily doesn’t know how to ride. She’s smart and determined and she wants to learn. She also owns up to her mistakes and wants to correct them, when it’s possible. However, she looks down on all easterners and thinks that the Native Americans are all savages.

Stanton is pretty much the polar opposite: he knows everything and isn’t afraid to tell it, often. He scorns Emily’s lack of schooling and rubs her face in it with every opportunity. However, he also knows several languages and is friendly with the local Native Americans while Emily just fears them and doesn’t know anything about them. He also keeps a lot of secrets from her.

Unfortunately, I didn’t care for the romance because Stanton doesn’t respect Emily and he’s downright disrespectful to her all the time; he calls her uncivilized and stupid. Also, the romance was very low-key. I also thought that it was strange that Emily didn’t really think about the stone in her right hand. It must have made things like eating very difficult. It’s mentioned a couple of times that dressing and undressing was difficult, but that’s it.

The book doesn’t end in a cliffhanger but it’s clearly a first in the series. While the immediate problems are solved, there are larger difficulties still to come.