Jake Sullivan is not your average Heavy. He spent his jail time honing his skills and improving his mind and now he’s J. Edgar Hoover’s super-weapon, useful for fighting Fades, Torches, Brutes, and any of the other Actives who are using their magic for criminal purposes. Jake doesn’t like being used this way, but it’s his ticket out of prison. When the FBI asks Jake to bring down Delilah Jones, the Brute who used to be his girlfriend, Jake gets caught up in a world-wide battle that involves magic, mobsters, zombies, zeppelins, Ninjas and Nikola Tesla’s peace ray.
Knowing that Larry Correia was into big guns and B movies, I wasn’t planning to pick up Hard Magic, the first of his Grimnoir Chronicles. It doesn’t really sound like my kind of thing. But then I noticed that it was released in audio by Audible Frontiers (who always do a superb production) and narrated by actor Bronson Pinchot. I decided to give it a shot, and I’m glad I did. Even though it is a bit too gory for me, Hard Magic is an exciting story with a fully-developed world, a cool magic system, terrific characters, and some hard-hitting action scenes.
I won’t even try to classify Hard Magic — it’s urban, it’s alternate history, it’s paranormal, it’s steampunk, it’s romance, it’s horror, it’s noir — it’s a little bit of everything. The story is set in an alternate 20th century between WWI and WWII. Magic talents have evolved in some humans so that each Active has one particular skill. For example, Jake Sullivan can alter gravitational forces, making himself or other objects light or heavy, Torches can set or put out fires, and Brutes have super strength. In addition to these heritable magical skills, the Germans have developed a way to create zombies to keep their soldiers fighting during The Great War, and the Japanese have developed their own nearly indestructible human super-weapons which they call the Iron Guard. And everyone wants to find the missing pieces of the machine that Nikola Tesla was working on at Wardenclyffe.
There’s a lot going on in the Grimnoir Chronicles, but Correia gives us a break by setting it in our own almost-recognizable world. The bits of true history orient the reader, and the mangled quotes of real historical figures at the beginning of each chapter give Hard Magic an authentic feel:
- I am by heritage a Jew, by citizenship a Swiss, by magical gift a Cog, and by makeup a human being, and only a human being, without any special attachment to any state or national entity whatsoever. —Albert Einstein, 1919
- You can go a long way with a smile. You can go a lot farther with a smile and a gun. A smile, a gun, and a Brute get you the key to the city. —Al “Scarface” Capone, 1930
Hard Magic is well-written and frequently funny. The complex and twisty plot moves swiftly and is full of intriguing characters such as the uneducated orphan who can Travel, the German Fade who walks through walls, the Pale Horse whose curse kills, the greedy billionaire who designs airships… there are too many interesting characters to list. All of their cool magical skills lead to some hardcore fight scenes. Most readers will probably find these fights to be the most fun part of the book. I was grossed out more than once and kind of irked that dead people didn’t necessarily stay dead, but that’s just me.
If you’re familiar with Bronson Pinchot’s acting career, it won’t surprise you to learn that his narration of the audiobook was brilliant. He took the whole production to a higher level. He easily managed all those characters with their different ethnicities and education levels — it was delightful, and was one of the best audiobook performances I’ve ever heard.
Despite my queasiness, I’m looking forward to Spellbound, the next novel in the Grimnoir Chronicles. I can highly recommend this series to urban fantasy/noir fans who don’t mind reading about ripped off heads and steaming entrails. If you want to give it a try, read the first few chapters of Hard Magic at Larry Correia’s blog.