Saturday, August 17, 2013

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.


  1. Bought the book based upon general consensus from this site. So far I am enjoying it IMMENSELY! I also read two books from the MHI series and I have to say, the author, correia, seems to be a breath of fresh air in the SF/F genre. There doesn't seem to be TOO MUCH political correctness (There's some GURL POWAH in his books, but at least there is a plausible explanation as to why the girls are so STRRROOONNGGG) in his books.

  2. OK. In the last post on book reviews I was unkind to the idea of revisionist history. But, I really have enjoyed Correia so far [the MHI series; all of it], so, with this review, and some of the others from the last review posting, its become time to dive into the Hard Magic series.
    I agree that Larry Correia is a breath of fresh air. And, lots of guns and heroes; so, what's not to like?

  3. This is evocative of Poul Anderson's Operation Chaos from the '70s. I remember reading it when it was serialized in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. He revisited that world some 30 years later in Operation Luna, but that wasn't as entertaining a read, IMO.

  4. Fact: Everyone knows the world is cooler with Zeplins.

  5. This plot looks great. Judging by the top that the cover woman is wearing, there is some very strong magic in the book. A top styled like that doesn't stay up without some supernatural help from somewhere. Same for the boobs. No disrespecting, just saying from experience that's all.

    Should be a nice read for a lazy, empty nester weekend.

  6. These reviews are great, keep them coming. I normally wouldn't think to pick up a book like this, honestly, but I've had an itch to find new fantasy fiction, and after reading this I'm definitely intrigued.

  7. 20th century era eugenics were bad enough, but magic-backed eugenics are even worse.

    Really? The Villains are involved in eugenics? If so I'll pick this series up without hesitation.

  8. There was an interesting book way back with a similar premise (in that some development in the recent past changed the future significantly), but I can't remember the name. A very Nietzsche'esque warrior society develops out of South Africa, capitalizes on the potential for steam powered vehicles and pulls way ahead of the West technologically at the turn of the 20th century - enough so to challenge them in World War.

    The Dresden Files was pretty good, I might look into this - take a break from Cthulu for a while...

  9. Johng, sounds vaguely like Stirlings Draka series.

  10. scoobius dubiousAugust 17, 2013 6:15 PM

    Sounds like Lethem's "Gun With Occasional Music" but hopefully less cute. Either way, I'll pass, Jim.

    Don't people get kind of sick and tired of these hard-boiled knock-offs? Hell, I can barely stand the originals.

  11. errhead,

    That's exactly the series that JohnG is describing.

  12. FWIW There are two sequels. It's all good stuff but I think there can't really be any more because the hero & heroine (i.e. Jake & Faye) have become sooper-dooper ridiculously powerful


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