Well, hello again. Welcome to my latest attempt at completing a Cannonball Read. First off, for those who are new here and are not from Pajiba or the CBR blog, Cannonball Read is a free-for-all reading marathon that anyone can join. Started originally between two commenters at my favorite movie and pop culture website, it has grown into a nicely-sized conglomeration of folks celebrating the life of a great person and the idea of reading for fun. Regardless of my completing it or not, I do appreciate CBR for getting me back into reading as much as I used to. If you would like to find out more, read other reviews, or maybe join up yourself, please visit the site here.
So without further ado...
Hard Magic is the first book in the "Grimnoir Chronicles" by Larry Correia, author of Monster Hunter International (a series that I am also tackling during CBR, based mainly on this book). The Grimnoir Chronicles is an alternate history series, at the basic level, Great Depression-Era X-Men. The first book follows two characters: Jake Sullivan (the big palooka on the cover) and Faye (actually not the woman on the front, I'll get to that) as they end up embroiled in a secret war between the Grimnoir Knights (a group of people with special abilities who are trying to avert World War II) and the Chairman (the near-godlike leader of a supremely powerful Imperial Japan, who seeks to cull the weak in his own attempt at saving the world).
Now, for those of you wondering, in this world, magic does exist, but instead of wizards and witches, you have people born with a single magical ability, or Gift. These people are called either Powers or Grimnoirs (I'll get into THAT later). The discovery of the source of this power and its effect on humanity is an important plot point (and looks to be the plotline for the entire series).
So let's get down to brass tacks. Pros and Cons of the book (warning: a few spoilers abound, but barely). Keep in mind: "pros" and "cons" represent both my logical and emotional responses to things in the book. A particular character I like/dislike will be listed in the respective area, whether or not the text indicates I am to feel that particular way about them.
Jake Sullivan. Jake is a Heavy, a Power who can manipulate gravity. Right from the outset, Correia shows us that in contradiction to his ex-con status and his hulking frame, Jake is a cunning soldier and is a borderline genius when it comes to his insights into the Powers. He isn't spouting magibabble or anything, but is shown experimenting with his powers and noting his limits. He acts like a scientist, while putting on a front of the dumb muscle.
Faye. The secondary protagonist, she is an Okie girl who can Travel (basically Jumper-style teleportation) with more skill and power than most others like her. She proves to be quite resourceful, acting more like the viewpoint character when Jake isn't available to do so, and she is badass in a way that is believable. She has probably the best fight scene in the book between her and another teleporter, that ends epically.
Characters. Nobody runs around acting like they hate their powers. Nobody cries about not being normal. Everyone takes full advantage of their abilities and come up with some wickedly brilliant uses for them. Jake is the king of this, but everyone manages to do some impressive feats by the end of the book, including the villains. And everybody (aside from most of the villains, and even then...) is likeable and worth following. Even Faye's grandpa (who's kind of a dick) is shown to be a loyal and loving man.
The action scenes. Oh good God, the action scenes. Right off the bat, the first fight is a brutal knockdown brawl between Jake and his Brute ex-girlfriend (Brutes are the superstrong Powers) that tears up a blimp depot. He also takes down a magically enhanced near-invulnerable samurai with the assistance of a duel-wielding German gunman in all white who can phase through solid matter, ending the fight in a way reminicent of the hallway fight in Inception. The fights are grimy yet fantastical. Correia is known for his action scenes and his attention to detail and function when it comes to firearms in his books, and he does not disappoint here. Again, the Traveler fight between Faye and her rival Toshiko steal the whole shebang, though there isn't a sour note among any of them.
The mystery of Pershing's death. Fairly easy to figure out around halfway through, but that may have just been me. Correia does do a fine job of keeping the clues subtle enough that you might not pick them up right away, with all the other stuff happening. Most of the really big keys to the puzzle revolve around relationships to other characters, which are made clear.
The name "Grimnoir". Okay, this is jsut my thing, but while it is pretty cool to read (the quotation of its creation in-universe is quite cool as well), and it isa nice badass appelation for our heroes, it is really awkward to say. I keep telling myself to get the "n" sound after the "m" sounds, and it just sounds like something is stuck to the roof of my mouth. It is just something that bugs me.
Pershing's killer(s). They were still assholes, regardless of their motives. And really, a lot could have been avoided if they didn't think they were so much smarter than everyone else. Again, this isn't a knock against Correia or the book (if anything, it is a compliment to his characterization), I jsut thought they were assholes.
Totally worth a read. It is an action-packed thriller and can easily compete with some of the better adventure books and movies out there. I am surprised it hasn't gotten any film offers (although MHI has been sold for a TV show), but who knows, maybe someone will. All I know is, if they can convey half the awesome in this book on a movie screen, they already have my money and maybe my firstborn.
But you don't have to take my word for it. Correia has sample chapters from all his novels for free on his blog, Monster Hunter Nation, including Hard Magic. Give it a whirl and let me know what you think.