4 out of 4 stars
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The Engine Woman’s Light by Laurel Anne Hill is a steampunk flight-of-fancy in the desert. Full of colors and smells, spirits and ghosts, you are transported to an alternate universe. familiar but so different.
Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro was born in shame and sent away with other unwanteds. In 1878, she is rescued by her great-grandmother from the California asylum train. After her rescue, which causes her great-grandmother's death, she is raised in the community of Promise. The residents of Promise are a ragtag group of people whose whole purpose is to rescue unfortunates from the trains. By 16, Juanita is recognized as a mystic who communes with the dead, especially her ancestors. She receives a vision which leads to the people of Promise sabotaging a train. A horrible explosion kills most of her friends and family. She is rescued by a group of pilgrims and their guide. Because she does not have papers, she can't travel freely in the British Territory or the Yankee territory. She ends up remaining with Guide (as she knows him) for two years. During that time she falls in love with him and learns more about her past. He agrees to support her spirit-inspired purpose to destroy access to the asylum.
A whole host of characters, in addition to Guide, helps her in her endeavors: members from the powerful and evil Mendoza family, Billy and other spirits, her best friend who was killed in the original sabotage. The journey is long and full of hardship and pain.
Honestly, this book was like nothing I had ever read before. It almost comes across like a well-told history set in California, and yet it is smattered with futuristic things, like airships, robots and light guns. Juanita’s constant contact with the spirit world, whether through visions, horses controlled by ghosts, or herself being taken over by a spirit, adds a whole other level to the story.
I loved Hill’s character development. Even the spirits themselves were easily recognized by their various tendencies and the smells Juanita associated with each one. Even the bad guys were multi-faceted. The love story was complex and realistic.
In the beginning, it took me a little while to get into the story. I think a tad bit more explanation would have been useful as things were introduced. However, as I understood Juanita’s world I was drawn into the story and had a hard time putting it down.
Readers who enjoy both fantasy and westerns would love this book. It is not appropriate for a younger crowd as violence and rape occur. It was very well edited.
I would give this unique tale a rating of 4 out of 4. It was engrossing and satisfying.
The Engine Woman's Light
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