HARD TO MISS
A Review of Hard Magic Book 1: The Grimnoir Chronicles
Larry Correia burst onto the publishing scene a few years back with a self-published first instalment of his Monster Hunter International series. That classic first book was snapped up by Baen Books and re-issued and each book in the series has gone on to become a bestseller, making Correia one of New Pulp's bestselling authors.
While continuing that series, Correia has branched out with a couple of new series – one of which is the Grimnoir Chronicles. Book 1 introduces us to an alternate world where magic has existed for decades and has had a profound impact on world events.
The year is 1932 but this isn't your grandfather's 1932. Japan is power hungry, Berlin has been destroyed and thanks to some very dangerous Tesla weapons, a fragile peace is maintained. However in this world, two groups of Actives (people possessing magic abilities) are caught in a power struggle. One group works for Japan's emperor and wants to “strengthen” the human race in preparation for a war with an alien that is only touched on in the first book, while the other group, the Grimnoir led by Blackjack Pershing, are fighting to keep all of mankind safe and free. Both parties are persecuted by Normals who see them as a threat.
Into this mix comes Private Investigator Jake Sullivan, a WWI hero and ex-con. When we first meet Jake, he is on parole, working for the FBI, rounding up rogue Actives. He is J. Edgar Hoover's lapdog and he either does what he's told or goes back to the Big House.
The second narrative thread concerns Faye, a tough teenager who witnesses her father's murder at the hand of Jake's brother, who works for the Emperor. Seems the baddies are collecting the components of a device which will allow the Emperor to rule the world.
Before covering what I liked about the novel, I'd like to touch on what I felt hurt the book. The first knock, and one that normally would have stopped me reading further, is that there is little or no attempt by Correia to have the book read like a period novel. Again, the year is 1932, but aside from a few touches here and there, the book could just as easily been set in 2012, or 2032 for that matter. What saved the book for this reader is that we are clearly in an alternate timeline here. This allowed me to get past the modern sound of the book. Hey, it's an alternate 1932 – anything goes. Magic-related “quotes” from famous historical figures begin each chapter and everyone from Einstein, Darwin, Hitler, Lincoln and Babe Ruth have words put into their mouths to help flesh out the world.
The other knock on the book is that it suffers, as most “mainstream” novels do, from long-bookitis. At 573 pages, Hard Magic often bogs down in needless exposition, tangents and flashbacks and probably would read better is it was about 100 pages shorter. Also, as this is the first of a new series, there are endless character introductions which also slow the story down.
Okay, onto the good. When this novel gets going, it gets going. In spades. Taking a page from Wayne Reinagel's book, Correia throws in everything AND the kitchen sink. Ninjas, secret societies, betrayals, alternate history, gun battles, magic battles, world shaking events, brothers at each other's throats, super zeppelin dogfights, fisticuffs, deaths, tragedy, triumph, explosions, blood and guts – you get it all! Correia's strength as a writer is in his action sequences and this book has plenty of these. All are a rollicking roller-coaster ride you do not want to miss.
The novel features a great cover by Allan Pollack and 8 interior character pin-up illustrations sprinkled throughout the text by artists Justin Otis, Aura Farwell and Zachary Hill.
Summing up, Hard Magic is a worthy read. It's no masterpiece but it is well worth your time to plow through the uneven start to the novel. It's a great action ride which is ultimately satisfying despite the book's shortcomings. Recommended.