Book review: Hard Magic

Jonathan Moeller reviewed Hard Magic by Larry Correia.

Based on the cover art, I picked up this book anticipating something
along the lines of THE DRESDEN FILES or GARRETT, P.I – you know, a
hardbitten private investigator solves crimes involving supernatural
creatures while dealing with the ever-evolving mess that is his personal
and/or love life. (Depending on the skill of the writer in question,
the series might eventually degenerate into an endless sequence of
werewolf-on-vampire romantic interludes.)

HARD MAGIC is nothing like that.

It is speculative fiction in the purest sense of the word – changing
one element of human history or technology and asking “what if?” from
the question. In the case of this book, the premise is that in the
mid-19th century, humans started developing magical powers for unknown
reasons. As one might expect, this played havoc with quite a few
different aspects of human society – World War I was bad, but World War I
with zombies and fire wizards was much worse.

HARD MAGIC opens at the start of the Great Depression. Despite the
Depression, the world is at peace – Nikola Tesla figured out how to use
magic to build his fabled teleforce Death Ray,
and Tesla’ s “Peace Rays” have made war obsolete…or so claims the
government. Jake Sullivan, an ex-con with magical superstrength, is
recruited by the Bureau of Investigation (the precursor to the modern
FBI) to help bring down dangerous “Actives”, or magically empowered
individuals. Jake quickly realizes that the Bureau is in over its head –
in HARD MAGIC, Japan has been taken over by magic-using eugenic-minded
fascists, led by an ancient wizard who is determined to make humanity
stronger to face some unknown enemy…no matter how many people he has to
kill in the process.

Meanwhile, an unwanted girl named Faye, feared for her unusual
magical power of teleportation, grows up with her adoptive grandfather,
who also has the same power. One day when cars full of armed men show up
at her grandfather’s farm, Faye quickly realizes that Grandpa has a
secret…and a lot of people are willing to kill to get their hands on
that secret.

HARD MAGIC is chock-full of action, guns, adventure, and cool magical
powers. It’s also a fascinating piece of speculative fiction. How would
the use of magical powers shape human history? I especially liked the
quotes from historical figures at the start of each chapter, altered
slightly to contain the magical perspective. This also helps make the
villains particularly villainous – 20th century era eugenics were bad
enough, but magic-backed eugenics are even worse. (Also, there seems to
be an unwritten law of alternate history fiction that zeppelins must
make an appearance, and HARD MAGIC has zeppelins in spades.)

Definitely recommended, and I’ll be reading the sequel later this year.