Book review: Hard Magic

BW provides the first review of the first Lions’ Den entry, Hard Magic by Larry Correia:

Hard Magic
Larry Correia
Rating: 8/10 and would buy

Hard Magic stands above several portions of mainstream culture. I’m tired of all these plucky kids and these strange worlds of elves and misanthropy. I’m tired of obvious political messages and anti-heroes being tough and unrelatable. I want a heroic big guy with a big gun in a hard boiled narration against someone or people I dislike a little. Hard Magic delivers in spades.

Jake Sullivan is a man for whom gravity is a compliant and willing mistress. Faye Vierra is a teleport spamming farm girl. Together, they must stop the Chairman, a man of elegance, strength and evil, who is planning to rule the world from Imperial Japan. Surrounding them is a colorful cast of characters which include a former radio personality who can control people’s minds, a German with a dark history involving zombies, a powerhouse of a dame and a samurai obsessed with strength above all. One might say it’s gimmicky, but this is no Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This is a logical and reasonable extension of the singular idea: What if magic showed up suddenly in the 1850’s?

Mr. Correia answers it well, he fulfills certain restrictions of Zeppelins with fire controlling Torches, lightning wrangling Cracklers and the wind shifting Weathermen. Gravity Spikers and Brutes serve as frontline troops, their natural strengths increased with their magical abilities. The Kaiser had sorcerers who raised the German dead to fight again. World War One was ended, not by armistice and treaty, but instead by Mad Scientist-made nuclear fire. At no point did I decide that the logic presented to me offended me. At no point did I say: “That’s it! I’m done, I could take the guy who could control gravity, but that one bit was too much.”

The book keeps a solid amount of suspense and rewarding action dispersed throughout in an even manner. The writing intricately changes itself according to whose perspective is the focus. Jake Sullivan’s voice is barebones and simplistic, hard boiled, even, while Faye’s is more descriptive and full of wonder. Madi’s voice feigns complexity and nobility while delving into barbarism as soon as it suits him. I was never confused as to the motivations of many characters, if it was a bit on the tell side of things.

One of the things that struck me was context. Unlike Dresden Files or other ‘hard boiled’ magical stories, this story had no questions of morals. People were good, or they were evil. Actions determined reactions, rather than stances or who they were. Even the events that lead to the death of a major character was shown to be evil, despite good long term intentions.  An example, not only were the Japanese elitist and darwinistic in the telling, they lived it in the logical fashion. They weren’t evil because they are evil conquering bastards; they were evil conquering bastards because their philosophies and values led them to that point. This brought the book to life. Details abounded, and rather than tell me the unimportant minutiae, Mr. Correia gave me tidbits that were relevant or funny. Hard Magic has no wasted space. 

Hard Magic proves that one doesn’t need a carefully crafted emotional backstory or actions for a modern protagonist. Like John Carter, Tarzan and other great action heroes of the great age of pulp, Jake Sullivan and the rest of the supporting characters do what they do because their characters were crafted from their surroundings, and personality from inherent humanity. It’s fresh, it’s great and I am entertained.

Style: 9 Writing changes itself to suit the characters. The writing never leaves me without images of the characters or actions. I won’t say it’s perfect, but my experience was very positive. There was a lack of complexity, and I was never challenged.

Plot: 10  Plot is simple, but it doesn’t need to be anything else. There’s a villain, and the story is over when he’s defeated. The heroes and villains have their own teams and motivations. It’s the solid armor protecting any weaknesses I didn’t pick up.

Characters: 10 Books like this rely on the couches of plot and characters. Failure in one can be made up in the other, but too much failure ruins the experience. It causes my boxers to get in a twist and me to put down a book. I had to be coerced by outside action before I stopped reading. I enjoyed every character who showed up and I enjoyed seeing them duke it out, especially in a teleport spam battle.

Value: 7  Sadly, this book holds little value in the big picture. All the ideas are interesting, but there is still that sense that this is a book for entertainment. That’s it. I can’t discern much to gain beyond a good tale. However, as entertainment, it succeeds admirably.

Series Draw: 6  Hard Magic is a story that could stand on its own, yet has a series attached to it. Sadly, The first book more or less deals with the characters and villains by the end of it, without pulling me into the series. Will I read the rest later? Oh yes. But if the sequels weren’t out, would I spend energy to remember the release dates? Not likely.

The book has no crippling flaws, I could read it to my not-yet living kids and I think it would look fancy on my paperback bookshelf. Would buy used, perhaps hardback if cheap enough.

Excerpt:  There was a shout and a gunshot. Sullivan’s concentration wavered, just a bit, and the real world came suddenly flooding back. The Power he’d gathered slipped from his control and the elevator gate was sheared from its bolts and slammed flat into the floor under the added pressure of ten gravities. A passenger screamed as his foot was crushed flat and blood came squirting out the top of his shoe. “Sorry, bud.” Sullivan turned in time to see one of the G-men tumbling down the stairwell, a grey shape leaping behind, colliding with Cowley and Purvis and taking them all down, “Aw hell,” he muttered, then spun back in time to see Delilah’s lovely green eyes locked on his.
“You were trying to smoosh me, Heavy!” she exclaimed, eyes twinkling as she ignited her own Power. She grabbed the big man by the tie and hoisted him effortlessly off the floor, even though he was almost a foot taller. The tie tightened, choking him as he dangled, and she finally got a good look at her assailant. “You! Well, if it isn’t Jake Sullivan. Been a long time.”
Then she hurled him. Suddenly airborne, he flew across the waiting area. Instinctively, his Power flared, and he bounced softly off the far wall with the force of a pillow. Jake returned to his normal weight as his boots hit the floor. He loosened his cheap tie so he could breathe again. “Hey, Delilah.”
“You lousy bastard.” She stepped out of the elevator and cracked her knuckles in a very unladylike manner. The other passengers had no idea what was going on, but they knew that this was not where they wanted to be. They took off at a run except for the one with the crushed foot, who hobbled as fast as he could. Every Normal had the sense to stay out of this kind of fight. “I’d heard you’d gone all Johnny Law now,” Delilah said.
“Something like that,” he replied slowly. “Bounty hunter.”
There was the sound of several quick blows. Off to the side, the grey shape rose and took on the form of a man in a long coat with a nightstick in hand. The G-Men were down. Purvis moaned. The man in grey stepped off the fallen agents and took a wary step away from Sullivan. He was short and tanned, with a pointy blond goatee and nearly shaved head. He picked his hat up and carefully returned it to his head. “Delilah Jones?” he asked quickly. Cowley started to rise and the stranger kicked him in the ribs, sending the agent back down.
“Who’s asking?”
“I’m here to rescue you,” he stated with a German accent, “from him.” He nodded in Sullivan’s direction. “No offense, Mein Herr.”
“None taken, but I’m gonna give you an ass whoopin’, you realize that, right, Fritz?” Jake stated calmly. He checked. The majority of his Power was still in reserve and he began to gather it.
“I can take care of myself, buddy,” Delilah told the stranger. “Were you planning on arresting me, Jake?”
“If I don’t want to go back to prison, yeah,” Sullivan answered, glancing back and forth between Delilah and the new threat. Delilah was a known quantity, the other guy, not so much. “That’s kinda the plan.”
“Too bad,” she answered as she grabbed the heavy metal luggage cart, picked it up as if it weighed nothing and threw it at him.