Review: Hard Magic by Larry Correia

Hard Magic

A friend was recently asked which novel is the best introduction to Larry Correia‘s work. She recommended Hard Magic: Grimnoir Chronicles Book I, and I was reminded that, although I’ve read and enjoy the book, I haven’t reviewed it yet. This post is meant to correct that oversight.

NB: I’ll do my best to keep this review as spoiler-free as possible, but those who haven’t read Hard Magic and want to approach the novel totally fresh should proceed with caution.

It’s 1932, albeit a very different time from the one our grandparents knew. Certainly there are similarities. The ashes of the Great War aren’t yet cold, and the unquenched embers threaten to spark an even more terrible conflict.

On the other hand, the war ended with pyrokinetics and demon summoners driving the Kaiser’s undead army behind the walls of Berlin. Imperial Japan prepares for global conquest, its dictator’s ruthlessness more than making up for broken Germany’s absence.

Magic–or a force practically indistinguishable from it–appeared in 1849. That power has wrought monumental changes through the one tenth of one percent of the world’s population strong enough to wield it,

Two such gifted individuals are Jake Sullivan: war hero, federal prisoner, and gravity-altering Active with far more ingenuity than the typical Heavy; and Faye Vierra: ADD-afflicted Dust Bowl refugee and teleportation prodigy. They find themselves drawn together even as they’re drawn deeper into an occult war with hundreds of millions of lives at stake.

My Perspective

The Grimnoir
Hard Magic was the first Larry Correia book I read. At the time I’d heard of the author and was aware that he was vilified in certain quarters of the SF establishment as a hack writer of gun porn. I was forced to conclude that Larry’s accusers couldn’t have read his work–or couldn’t be speaking honestly if they had.

Yes, Hard Magic (and its predecessor Monster Hunter International, which in all candor I did find to be a little rough–but hey, it’s a first novel) features lovingly detailed descriptions of firearms. And yes, its main speculative premise is best described as “diesel punk X-Men”.

If you thought there was a “but” coming, what the hell is wrong with you? Gun trivia is awesome–especially when it’s delivered with Larry’s expert touch. Diesel punk X-Men is such an awesome idea that Marvel’s failure to do it first is a sure omen of their decline.

Larry Correia tells imaginative action tales that put fun first–right where it belongs. He is helping to save SFF from the preachy nihilists and socially conscious schoolmarms who’ve spent the last two decades running genre fiction into the ground.

Reading Hard Magic made me appreciate how thoroughly Larry’s detractors underestimate him. Unlike most of the grievance studies set, he grew up on a dairy farm where predawn mornings found him elbow-deep in cow–not indicative of someone who abides laziness. He earned an accounting degree and worked for a Fortune 500 company and a defense contractor–not indicative of an intellectual lightweight.

Most importantly for our purposes, Larry contracted a library-devouring case of the reading bug at a young age–highly indicative of a Real Writer.

Hard Magic isn’t just a workmanlike pulp yarn (though it is, that; thank God). From the painstaking historical research (Quick aside: I have a history degree, and I focused on Japanese history. Trust me when I say that Larry got it right.), to a magic system of Sandersonian depth and scale, the book is replete with marks of real craft.

The crowning glory of Hard Magic, though, is its characters. Instances of navel contemplation and lengthy monologues are blessedly lacking. These characters show us who they are by what they do. Usually what they do is kick all kinds of ass, yet the violence always has meaning and is always justified by the stakes.

A recurring character element that jumped out at me while reading is the tension between the families we’re born into and the families we choose for ourselves. Loyalty to, and sacrifice for, family struck me as a major theme of Hard Magic (even if the author himself didn’t notice).

Conclusion

Hard Magic by Larry Correia delivers rollicking pulp action elevated by trenchant characterization. The author’s trademark attention to detail and commitment to fun make this book the perfect jumping-on point for new fans.

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About Brian Niemeier

Brian Niemeier is a John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer finalist. His second book, Souldancer, won the first ever Dragon Award for Best Horror Novel. He chose to pursue a writing career despite formal training in history and theology. His journey toward publication began at the behest of his long-suffering gaming group, who tactfully pointed out that he seemed to enjoy telling stories more than planning and adjudicating games.