A meteor containing godstone, a powerful mineral with protective and magical qualities, crashes to Earth. Meanwhile, a malevolent mage has put a curse on the Quinn family so that during the full moon, the males are pumas. The females are in puma form the rest of the month. This is to keep them from reproducing so the family will die out and the mage can acquire the Quinn's desirable island in the Great Lakes region. To add insult to injury, the mage makes it so that the "forced changes" (which start at puberty when the person is capable of reproduction), especially painful. The reader learns soon that the United States is populated by "changelings" who can change into various animal forms at will and are even given protection by Congress. Liam Quinn and his sister Orlagh (who spends most of the novel in puma form) go on a quest to find the mage who cursed them so they can force him to remove the curse. When the siblings lose their horse in a flash flood, they seek shelter with the Richards family, who has also been cursed by a different mage. It's not 100% clear what Heather's (the sister) curse is, but Fallon, the brother, is trapped in the mind of a child although he retains his ability to "tinker" (design and repair machinery). When Heather and Fallon's parents are murdered by Jack Easton, the brutal owner of a railroad company, the foursome set off on a quest for vengeance against him and the two mages who have cursed both families. Along the way, they are joined by a rag-tag group of help of varying abilities and and ages. They acquire a pair of writers who begin publishing the story of the "Sky Rangers" (so named because of the specialized balloon Fallon designed for them to travel in), and their fame spreads across the nation.
The plot is very detailed and clearly well-researched. Many of the machinery terms went over my head, but I can't fault the author because I made a D in physics. Mullins blends fantasy elements with history (the action takes place just after the Civil War and has a distinct "wild west" flavor") and aside from one use of the F-bomb (that I remember), the novel would also make a good choice as a young-adult action adventure. You can tell that Mullins put a lot of thought into this novel.
I especially liked the characters: Heather and Liam are as bad@$$ as they can be without being malevolent themselves, and one can sense a romance blossoming between the two. Fallon is amazing as the childlike Master Tinkerer who designs machinery and shows moments of extreme wisdom and intelligence. I would have liked to hear more from Orlagh's point of view, and I wish Mullins had taken advantage of a part when she was in human form to write a chapter from her perspective. The diversity of the foursome and their company is delightful. They range in ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and all prove to be useful to the expedition. Some of the characters sort of drop off in the middle of the book, but they are minor so it's not that big of a deal.
Mullins does an excellent job of presenting moral and social themes-justice, courtesy, family, community, and friendship among others-in a way that doesn't come across as self-righteous. I love it when a writer can do that. He also writes a lot of the dialogue on local vernacular, which gives it a neat dash of originality. A few of favorite scenes: the one where Heather torments one of her enemies with her dead mother's cursed, severed hand, the final showdown between Liam and the mage who cursed him, and the "restaurant" scene where the team acquires (among others) the twins who serve as reporters for the group and help spread the word about their adventures. This book is a time commitment, but it is worth the wait for some awesome scenes.
The 'errors' in this book are few and far between, and are entirely forgivable so I see no need to deduct points. Five stars all the way. Great job!
To check out Godstone Mage and Mullins' other selection of books: