What if Phillip Marlowe or Sam Spade were able to use magic to assist them in solving mysteries? And what if the culprits they were tracking had magic as well? What would a pre-World War II world infused with magic be like? And how would the addition of magic alter the progress of world events? All of these questions are explored in Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles, by Larry Correia.
Jake Sullivan is a decorated World War I vet, an ex-con, a private eye and an Active (person with magical abilities). He was released early from the Special Prisoners’ Wing of Rockville State Penitentiary for agreeing to use his magical abilities to assist Federal Agents in the capture of criminal Actives. Jake is a Heavy, his power allows him to manipulate gravity. He can turn something heavy light as a feather or crush something (or someone) beneath incredible force. It is a useful ability that Jake wields better than almost anyone else.
But when Jake is enlisted to assist in the capture of Delilah Jones, an Active accused of murder and bank robbery (and, coincidentally, his former flame), he’s conflicted. When Delilah arrives with other Actives at the appointed place and time (instead of alone as the Feds had planned), the group turns out to be more than even Jake can handle. When it appears that things can’t get any worse, they do: The Feds are blaming Jake for letting Delilah elude capture. It also turns out that the Feds are lying about Delilah—she hasn’t killed anyone—but they still demand she must be found and taken. Now Jake has two mysteries to solve: Why are the Feds lying about Delilah so they can arrest her, and who are the other Actives that intervened? The search for these answers will lead Jake in between two Active groups, each bent on the destruction of the other, with the world’s survival hanging in the balance.
Hard Magic is a genre-blurring romp that combines elements of detective pulp fiction, urban fantasy, science fiction, and alternate history. The result is an enjoyable fantasy thriller. The world Correia has created is fascinating, with the addition of magic muddying the already unclear waters of a post-World War I Earth and further highlighting the social and economic unrest of the Great Depression. The characters are interesting and engaging, particularly Jake Sullivan, the prototypical noir anti-hero (who always attempts to do the right thing, even if that means doing something illegal), and Faye, a young Active with an incredible amount of power who is set on avenging the death of her adopted grandfather. The action and suspense are non-stop. Hard Magic should appeal to anyone interested in detective pulp fiction and/or urban fantasy. It is the first of a series, and the second novel, Spellbound, is also available at the Buena Vista branch.