Hard Magic

One general law, leading to the advancement of all organic beings, namely, multiply, vary, let the strongest live and the weakest die. The appearance of esoteric and etheral abiliites, magical fires and feats of strength, in recent decades are the purest demonstration of natural selection. Surely, in time, that general law will require the extinction of traditional man.

—Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Man and Selection of Human Magical Abilities, 1879

Hard Magic is Great Depression / early 1930’s era detective noir piece set in an alternate history where a few decades before magical abilities had suddenly popped up throughout the population and made everything just a bit more interesting .

You have all sorts of abilities, mostly grouped into a single power set per person. Torches start fires. Brutes hit really hard (which is particularly interesting when the main example we see is a woman). Heavies that can mess around with gravity. Healers that put people back together and Pale Horses that tear them apart. Lazaruses raise zombies. Travelers can teleport. Cogs are basically mad scientists.

It’s an interesting world, especially part of the way through when you start getting a bit deeper into exactly why there are powers in the world ( definite Worm vibes there ), although that’s mostly a side plot for this book–I’m sure it will become more critical in the sequels.

“Hey!” he shouted. “Can you clamp it down from here?”

“Are you crazy? You want them to stay?” an older man in a blue UBF captain’s uniform shouted. “That’s my bird they’re glauming out there, and even I don’t want to mess with those freaks! He bent the door with his brain, son!”

There is just enough 20s/30s jargon to make the world feel real enough to me– although I’d admit that some of that might be that I just don’t consume much media from that era / know terribly much about how it really was. It makes for a fun read though, you can say that again. There are more than a few points in the book that are somewhat jarring (slang and word choices that would not be acceptable in modern conversations) but at least they feel true to the times?

Characterwise, I really like both Jake Sullivan (an ex-con / less-than- completely-willing-Gman Heavy) and Faye Vierra (a Traveller with quite the tragic backstory who’s more street savvy than book smart and got moxie to spare). They’re both a lot of fun to read and although they don’t directly interact that much until the end of the story, I love watching them act off one another. The supporting cast are really interesting as well. Delilah the woman Brute who can kick just about anyone’s ass. Lance who we meet as a talking squirrel. The Grimnoir Society. Blackjack Pershing.

Storywise, the action scenes are amazing. When gravity gets twisted all out of shapes by a Heavy, things go sideways. When someone gets punched through a wall, you can feel it. When someone gets thrown out of a blimp… well…

He’d fallen two thousand feet, blasted through a train car, dug an impact crater, and still nothing felt broken. Somehow he’d used up the last of his Power unconsciously before impact. He must have gone real dense. He hadn’t known he could do that, but then again, he didn’t routinely fall off blimps.

Pretty much like that.

All in all, I liked this book far more than I expected to. I’m really looking forward to where it all goes from here…

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