Plot trumps characterization in this Wild West fantasy.
When mysterious attackers burn their hometown, survivors Maggie Davis and her younger sister, Ella, seek refuge in a nearby town. Local law enforcement assumes the burnings are Apache attacks against relic-mining communities, as the Apache culture views relic use as religious desecration. Relics are the expensive fossils of magical creatures such as dragons and goblins, and they give the wielder access to the creature’s residual magic. When a few Apaches—including the one who rescued Maggie and Ella from their town’s fire (the first of Maggie’s many rescues)—are captured, Maggie must solve the mystery before they are executed. While local nuns take in little Ella, Maggie needs employment—preferably not as a prostitute. She only barely finds a position at the local saloon when its young, handsome owner—Álvar Castilla, the wealthiest man in town—invents a hostess position for her. She befriends a showgirl/prostitute with a heart of gold and flirts with a heroic cowboy while avoiding a controlling stock villain. The text often tells readers that Maggie is strong, yet more often than not, other characters must push her along through the plot. The ending demands a sequel, but only readers willing to forgive slipshod characterization for the innovative worldbuilding will look forward to it.
Simplistic characters undermine an exciting, creative fantasy world. (Fantasy. 14 & up)