I normally write reviews in the passive voice, but in this case I’ll make an exception because my feelings are a bit more personal and the book has been out for several years now.
Hard Magic was published in 2012. I was very slow to get into it because it’s outside of my preferred genre and I don’t generally like alternative history novels. Once I was able to get over my own foibles, I was glad to once again immerse myself in Larry’s enjoyable prose. Hard Magic is Larry’s second series, continuing the fun mix of action and epic adventure that he began with his wildly successful Monster Hunter series, but this time with a noir, steampunky fantasy set in the 1930’s.
The description on Amazon, astonishingly, calls it a cross between The Maltese Falcon and Twilight, and while the former comparison is in the right zip code, the latter is the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen on Amazon since the last review-for-hire attached to a self-published albatross. The story bears about as much resemblance to the Twilight series as a Twinkie to Foie Gras, insofar as they are both edible (allegedly). A more apt comparison would simply be to X-Men, though as the reader soon learns, the power behind the enhanced humans is far a far more complicated matter than simply “genetics.”
Comparisons to the Monster Hunter series are inevitable, though I found that Jake Sullivan is the only protagonist that seems like a cookie-cutter version of Larry’s previous characters. This can hardly be considered a weakness, as his predecessor, Owen Z. Pitt, is a good character and easily carries his own series. I will say that Jake seems a little more introspective, probably due to his war record. The rest of the characters are reasonably unique, and Faye stands out in particular. She was my favorite character in Hard Magic by far.
Each of the “actives” has some innate ability, and it is enjoyable to see the way that Larry pits them against each other. Jake is a “heavy,” who can manipulate gravitational fields, and Faye is a “traveler,” who can transport herself instantly from one place to another. There are other actives who can create (and extinguish) fire, those that can heal, manipulate electricity, and augment mechanical devices, to mention a few. Both sides of the story employ actives for their forces.
The plot is a typical “good guys versus bad guys intent on world domination” affair, but Larry does a good job with his unique alterative history and it remains engaging throughout. There are extensive reviews with summaries, so I’ll refrain from my own here. The climax of the novel is cinematic, to say the least, and leaves ample room for a sequel without clubbing the reader over the head with it (cough). One advantage I have with waiting this long to read Hard Magic is that the sequels have already been released, so I don’t have to wait to dig in to the next book.
My rating: 4/5 Stars