4 out of 4 stars
Share This Review
The Engine Woman’s Light (Laurel Anne Hill) is a Western-style fantasy novel set in the late 19th century which centers around a young woman with mystical abilities who must save herself and her people from the absolute destruction predicted by her ancestors.
Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro is a teenage orphan raised by adoptive parents in a small, rural, Old West desert town. She is also a mystic, or a person with the ability to enter the walkway between life and death and speak to those who have already crossed to the other side. She is warned in a vision from her deceased ancestors that her people face imminent annihilation unless she can manage to derail a specific train, the Federally-run transport train that moves “undesirable” people such as orphans, lepers, rebels, and prisoners of war to a concentration camp-like “asylum”. She convinces her people to help her derail the train in order to secure their freedom and prevent the fate that the ancestors predicted. The train sabotage is a success, but it alters Juanita’s life forever. Injured, frightened, and alone, she is suddenly thrust into a group of traveling strangers with nothing more than her name and a new mission: to recover the tatters of her former life and to fight for her people’s redemption.
The story features a love triangle, but it is in no way stereotypical or even predictable; it kept me guessing quite literally until the last page. I detest romance novels as a rule, but the romantic thread of this one was done so expertly that I hardly noticed it; it just felt as though it was a necessary but minor part of the larger storyline. Juanita’s character was believable and compelling, and I was always interested to read about what she would do next.
In fact, characterization was one of the work’s greatest assets. All of the characters, even the minor ones, felt as though they had stories of their own to tell, which made them interesting and nuanced. It is rare that a story grips me the way this one did, and I attribute the magic entirely to the quality of the writing.
A few steampunk elements were present but not overdone so as to become cheesy. Overall, it is more a Western than a steampunk novel, albeit one with abundant supernatural facets which are integral to the plot. A few minor errors exist in the text, but none of them interfere with understanding or enjoyment. On the whole, the book seems polished and professional and deserves a place on the bookshelf of any fan of the genre.
A word of caution, however: despite the youth of the protagonist and the illustrated style of the front cover, this is not a book for children. The text does not shy away from the less-savory aspects of life in the Old West and features mass murder, mafia-style violence, and sexual assault. There are also myriad references, some quite explicit, to homosexuality. While I felt that these scenes were handled quite respectfully and not in a way that would offend LGBTQ+/ally readers, it may be distasteful to readers who are uncomfortable with the subject.
I would rate The Engine Woman’s Light as a 4 out of 4 for its gripping storyline, excellent character development, and vivid, imaginative depiction of a fantasy world that is somehow both foreign and familiar. It would most appeal to adult readers who are fans of fiction that borders on fantasy and who are not averse to the Old West genre.
The Engine Woman's Light
View: on Bookshelves | on Amazon