3 out of 4 stars
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The Engine Woman’s Light, a novel by Laurel Anne Hill, is a mind-bending and quite enjoyable read. Written in the first-person perspective, this book probes the farthest reaches of one’s imagining, with engaging genres of fantasy fiction, steampunk and alternate history coming into play.
Set in California in the late 1800s, the story kicks off with Zetta, a mournful old woman on an asylum bound train. Accompanied by the spirit of her very dead husband, she escapes with her recently discovered great-granddaughter, whom she names Juanita Elise Jame-Navarro. The story jumps fifteen years into the future, where the perspective is switched to Juanita’s, now safely ensconced in the village of Promise. Surrounded by a supportive family, an adoring spouse and the respect of her village as the mystic traveller, Juanita seems to lead a fairly content life. Assigned her first mission by a popular mystical entity, Juanita undertakes this task with the help of her family and friends but when the mission goes horribly wrong, she must take on a new challenge – awakening a dark part of herself.
The Engine Woman’s Light had a surprisingly dark, gritty overtone, a direct contrast to the childish-seeming cover and unassuming title. The narrative possessed no overly descriptive scenes, more a daring subtlety that skimmed the surface of rape and abuse, to name a few thematic contributions. The most jarringly engaging aspect of this novel was its unpredictability; the genre and plotline combined so unfamiliar it was page-turning and fascinatingly new.
There are elements of cultures and subcultures present in the novel that add an eclectic feel to Juanita’s journey. The incorporation of the biblical Moses with superstition and folklore of Mexican culture, rooted in historical North America with an extradimensional atmosphere brought intrigue to an already action-fraught tale. Readers may be pressed to uncover similarities between modern day practices and that of Hill’s book, such as Juanita being promised to Galen before fifteen, an example of arranged marriages that date back centuries which maintain a presence in several cultures and obvious dissimilarities, like the magical quality of the novel versus the harsh cynicism of real life.
Hill effectively created a tale well-worth its read. The Engine Woman’s Light doesn’t shy away from the harrowing facets of the real world, yet somehow blends seamlessly with the enamouring fantasy universe it is set in. The writing style is descriptive and flawless, containing no notable grammatical or spelling error and seems to be well-edited. Hill’s ability to switch perspectives to suit the plot of the story is deftly carried out.
Despite the smooth manoeuvrings by Hill, there is an inescapable confusing feature. Due to the constant back and forth with time and possessions, a reread to fully grasp the focal point of a particular part in the book is frequently necessary and takes away from the enjoyment of reading the book.
I rate this book 3 out of 4 stars. I would recommend this book to readers over the age of eighteen whether or not they are fans of steampunk and fantasy fiction, as the story itself contain extremely interesting plot twists and an admirable telling.
The Engine Woman's Light
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