The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic – A Review

May 4, 2011

For those of you who don’t know it, I’m a very big fan of Larry Correia‘s books. And the purpose of me writing this review is to explain why I was so incredibly impressed on finishing his most recent one, The Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic, from Baen Books.

I will try in this review to avoid spoilers as to happenings in the book. This will unfortunately result in me not being able to titter like a schoolgirl over which parts in the book I found particularly awesome, but hopefully will force me to look a little deeper into why (behind the guns and the explosions and the magic powers and the ninjas and the dirigibles and the Tommy Guns. . .) Hard Magic is such a fantastic work.

Here’s why: Correia is not lazy. There are no copouts in Hard Magic.

Bear with me now. There are several reasons for me saying this. The first is the characters, namely the evil ones. All of the bad guys Correia writes are very well-done, but the Chairman (the main antagonist in Hard Magic) is nothing short of incredible. All of Correia’s bad guys are certainly evil, and the Chairman (the main antagonist in Hard Magic) perhaps most of all, but he is also a very complicated character. Unlike most antagonists in fiction, the Chairman is not driven by cruelty, hatred, or even a lust for power. He is not out to accumulate material wealth, get revenge, or right some past wrong.

On the contrary, the Chairman displays what is becoming a uniquely “Correian” characteristic in bad guys: He does not consider himself evil or simply not care about the results of his actions. On the contrary, he views himself as the world’s savior. He knows what Evil is coming, and is trying his level best to prepare humanity and the world for the coming storm. Certainly, a few will be killed, a few lives destroyed, a few tortured almost to insanity, but in the grand scheme of things (in the Chairman’s reasoning), this is the cost of saving the world. One could almost make the argument, therefore, that those in Hard Magic who battle the Chairman are destroying the world’s only hope of salvation by valuing the lives of the few harmed by the Chairman’s actions as more valuable than humanity as a whole.

The second opportunity for a copout is in the explanations. For instance, in Hard Magic‘s world, there is (suprisingly enough) magic. Many fantasy/science-fiction authors have magic in their books, but choose not to develop explanations for how the magic is there, why it is there, how it works, etc. Instead, they choose to devote their time to other things in the story.

Now, this is not in and of itself a bad thing. Perhaps it is acceptable for explanations for the unnatural in a story to be sacrificed in order to construct a marvelously complicated character, for instance. And having great characters may just make up for not not having good explanations for things. However, many authors simply don’t seem to care enough about providing explanations for the unnatural,  and it is my opinion that this is nothing more than literary laziness. Too many authors, in my opinion, set up fantastic concepts in their fiction (magic, superpowers, unbelievable technology, etc.) and never devote even a paragraph to explaining how it’s possible for these to work, even in the fictional universe they have created.

To a detail-oriented person like me, this is pure torture. Thankfully, Correia never falls into that trap in his works, and in Hard Magic least of all. When I finished Hard Magic a few hours ago (after buying it mere hours after my local Books-a-Million got it on the shelves and reading it until 12:30 this morning), my head was whirling, trying to understand Correia’s immense explanations for the overarching concepts in the book.  I don’t understand them completely as of now, so I know that I will be able to immediately begin re-reading it in an effort to do so. It is the rare book that can be immediately and enjoyably re-read upon completion. 

In the vein of explanations, it is the even rarer book that treads the perfect line with them. If an author fills his book with incredibly complex explanations for  absolutely everything, the reader is likely to toss the book back onto the table in frustration and go find something else to do. If there are no explanations whatsoever, a reader like me is likely to finish the book, but be left feeling shorthanded (and therefore, not too likely to read the author again). Correia avoids both these extremes, however, and Hard Magic‘s explanations fall perfectly between them. You will be left with your brain spinning, yes, but with a passionate desire to understand, as a good deal of the story hinges on how well you understand certain concepts Correia presents.

The final, perhaps less weighty, thing in Hard Magic that demonstrates Correia’s attempt to avoid literary copouts is in the battles. Many(probably all, actually) fantasy books feature a climactic  battle, in which good triumphs over evil, the sun rises again, and rainbows and ponies emerge. A climactic battle and a happy ending are highly necessary to a good book, I believe, but too many authors don’t seem to devote much energy to writing their battles.

For examples of this, think back over the last few fantasy/sci-fi novels you read. How many climactic battles in theses books feature the underdog killing some superbeing just because he got really really mad and somehow that granted him a ton of extra skill (As if the demon/monster/what have you that he was battling hadn’t fought angry people before . . .)? Or how many of these books had reinforcements exploding out of the background in just the nick of time to obliterate all the evil?

Probably more than a few, I bet. Correia doesn’t do that, though. I can’t fully explain this without spoiling everything, but the inevitable good ending is assured by tiny, minute, seemingly completely unrelated actions that occurred towards the beginning of Hard Magic. Actions that you would not even dream were in any way related to the ending, or even to aiding the protagonists at all!

All these things appear to demonstrate one thing: Larry Correia is committed to filling the cracks. He writes his stories with a refreshing depth that so many authors seem to lack, providing the reader with mind-boggling puzzles, characters with complex motivations, excellent antagonists (that one periodically struggles to believe are evil at all!), believable battles, and equally believable, happy endings that you didn’t exactly see coming.

Go buy Hard Magic. You will not regret it.