The Hidden Goddess
In my opinion, one of the most under-utilized settings for an alternate history novel is the America of the 1800s. This was an era when progress occurred in leaps and bounds, adventure was just around the corner, and familiar locales were coming into being in a much rougher and more dangerous form. Last year’s novel The Native Star received a well-deserved Nebula nomination, and the sequel, The Hidden Goddess, bids fair to follow in its predecessor’s footsteps.
(Description nicked from the back of the book.)
“Like it or not, Emily has fallen in love with Dreadnought Stanton, a New York Warlock as irresistible as he is insufferable. Newly engaged, she now must brave Dreadnought’s family and the magical elite of the nation’s wealthiest city. Not everyone is pleased with the impending nuptials, especially Emily’s future mother-in-law, a sociopathic socialite. But there are greater challenges still: confining couture, sinister Russian scientists, and a deathless Aztec goddess who dreams of plunging the world into apocalypse. With all they must confront, do Emily and Dreadnought have any hope of a happily-ever-after?”
As I mentioned at the start of the review, one of this novel’s strongest assets is the setting. By having the tale take place in America not long after the Gold Rush, the author is able to draw readers into a series of places that are both familiar and unfamiliar. We see San Francisco as it was during its rough and ready days, we see the original splendor of a young New York, and we see the gritty reality of travel on a cross-country train. These locales don’t even need the addition of magic to work—they resonate all on their own. Making this world one that has magic is just the added spice to the dish.
Whereas the first book was more plot oriented—getting Emily to someone who could remove the stone from her hand—this book places much more emphasis on Emily and Dreadnought’s respective backstories. As the novel progresses, the characters become more well-rounded, giving extra weight to their motivations and actions. Emily is someone that I’d love to sit down and have a chat with, because she’s got enough personality and force of character for five people. She has the kind of spunk that makes you want to cheer for her when she outwits some snobby socialite bent on looking down on her.
I appreciated the addition of some humor here. Emily is placed in a situation that is fraught with societal land mines, and the author takes good advantage of this. The myriad ways in which she dodges her obligations to tea parties and dinners made me giggle more than once. The humor is never overbearing, though, and it adds a light touch to a story often peppered with tragedy.
There’s a lot going on in this novel on a plot level. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I liked the fact that the Aztec goddess was being woven into the story, and I wondered if it wouldn’t have been better to leave that storyline for a separate novel. However, as the novel pulled all of its strings together, I came to truly appreciate Hobson’s intricate plotting. Ultimately, even if it seems like the book is going in too many directions at once, I can happily report that it all comes together in the end with a bang.
I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see The Hidden Goddess garnering award nominations in the not too distant future. It’s even better than The Native Star, and that’s saying something. It delves into the rich history of our frontier past and will draw you in like no other book can. I hope the author plans on writing more, because I’ll eagerly snap up anything she produces!
Also by this author: The Native Star
This review appeared on Owlcat Mountain on July 20, 2011.