Baen, 2011 (Audible Inc., 2011)
I have probably noted Larry Correia’s name in passing multiple times each instance a vague contemplation of a Monster Hunter novel but it wasn’t until I saw a description Hard Magic that I decided to take the plunge. After serving the United States in war Jake Sullivan ended up serving time in prison. Not one to sit idle Sullivan has used his prison experience to hone and experiment with his magical gift to control gravity in a specific area. Jake’s unique skills as a “Heavy” bring him to the attention of J. Edger’s G-men and nets him a deal: his freedom in exchange for his assistance bringing down other magically powered criminals. In a way similar to Shadow Ops: Control Point, many people in the world of Hard Magic are gifted with specific magical abilities. Increased strength and durability, intangibility, teleportation, telekinesis, healing, and various other gifts exist alongside ritual magic to create a vast and fascinating web of possibility that make Hard Magic a constantly surprising and surprisingly complex read.
Jake Sullivan is the quintessential tough guy, a hard-boiled hero seemingly crafted out of Raymond Chandler’s own qualifications for such a hero:
But down these mean streets must go a man who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid. The detective in this kind of story must be such a man. He is the hero; he is everything. He must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man. He must be, to use a rather weathered phrase, a man of honor—by instinct, by inevitability, without thought of it and certainly without saying it….I think he might seduce a duchess and I am quite sure he would never spoil a virgin; if he is a man of honor in one thing he is that in all things.
He is a relatively poor man, or he would not be a detective at all. He is a common man or he could not go among common people. He has a sense of character or he would not know his job. He will take no man’s money dishonestly and no man’s insolence without a due and dispassionate revenge. He is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as a man of his age talks—that is, with rude with, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham. And a contempt for pettiness.
The story is this man’s adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure….If there were enough like him, the world would be a very safe place to live in, without becoming too dull to be worth living in. (The Simple Art of Murder)
Sullivan, while on the outside appears to be a simple thug is in truth all those things Chandler mentions. A man of the people yet also intelligent and cerebral, a man of violence yet one with a strict code of honor and justice, a man forced by circumstance into a particular occupation, and most definitely a man of action looking to explore the mystery of his own magic. While Jake is Hard Magic’s central character we are also introduced to a motley and varied cast of characters that service and foil and a support to Jake. The light-hearted, surprisingly capable, and constantly quizzical teenager Faye Vierra in particular makes for an excellent contrast to the stoic and surefooted Jake.
Jake’s situation at the start of the novel serves as a jumping off point for the plot involving the Japanese Imperium, airships, secret societies, and Tesla created weapons of mass destruction. Along the way Jake discovers more about the magical abilities that exist throughout the world and while the novel is one of action and adventure there is a complex and rather detailed system buried beneath the simplicity of the magic viewed within its pages. Rather than a cookie-cutter villain Hard Magic introduces readers to the Chairman (the Emperor’s right-hand man and the most powerful magic user in the world) who while definitely a bad guy has motivations that are far more complex than one might expect. There are moments late in the novel where you start to wonder if The Chairman might even be onto something even if his methods are evil.
The audiobook version of Hard Magic is narrated by Bronson Pinchot. I’ve known he is an audiobook narrator for some time but I’ve remained more familiar with his character work on television and film (Serge in Beverly Hills Cop and Balki in Perfect Strangers). It turns out the varied nature of the character actor translates supremely well into the world of audiobooks. Pinchot brings the various characters of Hard Magic to vivid life infusing characters voices with unique twists, accents, and speech patterns that make each one feel like something more than just a character on a page. As adept at describing action as he is a reading dialogue Pinchot is as essential to the success of Hard Magic as Correia’s writing.
Part pulp, part alternate history and part fantasy Correia’s Hard Magic is an absolute blast to read. While I went in expecting some light fun what I found was a complete world deftly brought to life with vibrant characters and thrilling action. I was excited going into Hard Magic but the novel far exceeded my expectations and I came away anxious and thirsting for more (thankfully the sequel, Spellbound, is available now). If you like fun, well-written fiction than I highly recommend giving Hard Magic a shot. Definitely one of my favorite reads of 2012.