Monday, November 28, 2011

Review: Hard Magic: Book I of the Grimnoir Chronicles

Author: Larry Correia
Publisher: Baen
Date: May 3, 2011
Genre: Um....Alternate History Noir Fantasy? Yeah, that'll probably do.

Author's Bio (from Larry Correia is hopelessly addicted to two things, guns and B-horror movies. He lists his occupations: gun dealer, firearms instructor, accountant, and writer, and was until recently part-owner of a company specializing in firearms and movie props. He shoots competitively and is a certified concealed weapons instructor. Larry resides in Utah with his very patient wife and family.

Visit him on the Facebook Group, Monster Hunter International, Hunters Unite! or his blog,

My Awful Review: Larry Correia has no shame at all about writing exciting, pulpy novels full of action and lots and lots of things that go boom. What's more impressive is that over the last two or three years, he's turned those novels into something that has characters you can care about and root for, villains that you hate, but understand, and plots that are well-paced and worth the read. He may claim that he loves writing pulp, but he's not writing anything close to that anymore.

When I first met Larry, he was signing books at my local Borders Books in Logan UT. I'd gone to talk to a buddy of mine, author John Brown. Larry was at the same table, and he very quickly sold me (he could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in a wedding gown). I bought it, got it signed and took it home.

That book was Monster Hunter International, a book that Correia had originally self-published, and which sold over three thousand copies. This got him the attention of the good folks at Baen Books, who republished it, and are currently in the process of buying everything that he's every scribbled on a truckstop napkin. That book had its flaws (I would have given my left arm for a contraction, just one in the entire book!), but it was clear that this man knew how to make you turn pages.

Now Larry's doing the same thing, but this new series takes place not too long after World War I, in an alternate history where some human beings have developed X-men style powers, and it's completely changed the world.

I'll go on record saying that this book is probably three or four times better than Monster Hunter International. The characters are a little less wooden, the writing has vastly improved, and I think we're really starting to get a glimpse at the Golden Age of Correia, where he's going to be doing some wonderful work for a number of years to come. It's worth noting here that I DID enjoy Monster Hunter International quite a bit, but that it's my least favorite book he's written. It's a worthy series, though, and I thoroughly enjoyed the two sequels so far. Definitely worth a read.

The story of Hard Magic revolves around Jake Sullivan, an ex-con who has the ability to change a number of things that relate to gravity. Jake's often called a Heavy, the nickname for his particular type of power. There are a lot of different powers, and it's incredibly enjoyable to see how the world has changed as a result of them. Jake is about to run into a society of people that defend the world against the forces of evil (yes, this sounds corny on paper, but it's just plain awesome in the book), and it's all going to end in a giant fight over a huge weapon on a massive dirigible thousands of feet in the air. Relax, I didn't give anything away, I just want to give you a sense of how quickly this book escalates from ex-con who falls in with some cool people to epic battle for the future of mankind.

There are other points of view in the story, most notably Faye, a young girl who has been through some really rough times in her past, and can teleport. I honestly don't want to go into too much more detail than this, since I don't want to spoil it for you.

I love fantasy books, in all shapes and sizes, but the idea of mankind suddenly coming to the realization that a number of them have "superpowers" will always hold a special place in my heart. Combine this with Correia's transition from B-movie horror style writing into polished and experienced author who can weave multiple storylines together and leave you dying for more, and I was immediately sold. I think you will be, too.

What I loved

  • The different talents that the people have were just great. He's clearly gone to some lengths to think about how certain powers would impact our world
  • The noir, detective feel of the story. The early 1900s is a wonderful place to put something like this. Technology is just starting to take off, and with the right superpowers, some real advances could be made that moves the world forward dozens of years in a single leap.
  • The character of Faye harkens back to the old naive apprentice learning the ropes and coming to grips with the loss of her Obi-wan. Yet it doesn't come off cliche.
What I hated

  • Correia was still pandering to fans of his Monster Hunter series in this book, and there's some overly-descriptive writing about guns ever now and again that kind of drew me out of the story. I have privately coined the term "gunsterbation" when referring to this sort of thing, and when I do my retro reviews of his older stuff, you'll see this a lot more. It's worth it to note that in the second book of the series (I bought the e-ARC from Baen's website a while back) this has decreased to almost nothing, which must have taken quite a bit of effort coming from a gun nut like Correia.
Hard Magic gets 8.75/10, and is my absolute go-to recommendation for people that want something that takes place in this world (along with the Dresden Files), or for people who want something similar to X-men-style powers.