The Hidden Goddess
I really enjoyed Ms. Hobson’s debut The Native Star. The series defies any kind of categorization. While it presents an alternate fantastical history of the world in the 1870s, focusing on America, there are also steampunk elements, as well as science fiction, magic, paranormal, horror, romance, and mystery. Whatever it is, in this case smearing genre lines is very good.
Before you go any further, you have to know that if you haven’t read the first book, you can’t read this one. I mean, you could, but I really don’t advise it because you’ll be confused and probably uninterested, so I’d stop reading right now. However, if you have caught up with the series, then you know that our heroine Emily Edwards is engaged to Dreadnaught Stanton, scion of the plummy New York Stantons. Dreadnaught is about to be invested as the new Sophos of the Credomantic Institute, after the last one was foully murdered, and Emily has journeyed to New York to prepare for the wedding. Aside from getting through her mother-in-law’s boring luncheons, Emily is also the conduit for Kome-cum-Ososolyeh, a mystical Earth Mother-ish semi-sentient Presence who used to be a native elder but now resides in a nut. (That’s about the best I can do. Sorry.)
But there are signs around the world of imminent apocalypse. There are earthquakes, tsunamis, and volcanoes, and where the earth’s crust cracks, Black Exunge spews up, turning animals into monsters and humans into zombies. See, somewhere in Mexico is Itztlacoliuhqui, the Goddess of Obsidian Knives and a seriously disturbed woman. She has been searching for her reincarnated true love, and when she finds him she will ignite temamauhti, the apocalypse. But to do this, her priests need Emily.
While the world is falling apart, it becomes clear to Emily and Dreadnaught that someone doesn’t want him as Sophos; that Emily’s late father and mother were hiding a lot more than she thought; that those creepy Russians may not be quite so villainous; and that Dreadnaught himself has a far scarier past than he has let on.
The world-building is fantastically detailed, and I was fascinated. But I was also overwhelmed. Lots of people die, and lots of blood spurts. Revelations crop up. New characters appear. And more revelations come. There are times when Emily just runs into her room, slams the door shut, and has a pout. I couldn’t blame her since in her place, I’d have totally freaked out. It’s things like that that make Emily very sympathetic; she’s just a normal person caught up in huge events, trying to do the right thing. She doesn’t always make good or unselfish choices. But they make sense for her at the time. Good on Ms. Hobson for neither angelicizing nor demonizing her heroine.
Some of the new characters are very interesting, but aside from Miss Jesczenka, Emily’s mysterious chaperone, we don’t spend much time with them. This includes Dreadnaught, who’s too busy coping with the Credomantic Institute to be interesting. This is my main problem with The Hidden Goddess – ultimately, there is too much going on. This book is definitely action-packed, but too much action, too many characters, and a multitude of plot twists blur the reader’s focus. I was never bored, but I wasn’t always glued to the pages either.
However, the world-building is still great, and we get lots of time with Emily, who’s a worthwhile heroine. I find the romantic conclusion particularly appealing, and overall The Hidden Goddess is a satisfactory companion to the The Native Star.
This review contains some spoilers for the series.