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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

“Warbound” by Larry Correia (Reviewed by Casey Blair)

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Larry Correia is primarily known for his urban fantasy Monster Hunter International series, but his steampunk Grimnoir Chronicles are not to be missed. The first in this series is Hard Magic; the third and final book, Warbound, was released Tuesday, August 6th, 2013 via Baen Books. Correia has described the Grimnoir Chronicles on his blog as follows: “Imagine hard-boiled gangster pulp meets magical powers and the addition of golden-age super science, only with more zeppelins and ninjas, and you’re on the right track.”

The lovely thing about that pitch is that it's completely accurate, and if that doesn't catch your attention then I don't know what will.

In case the aforementioned dirigibles did not tip you off, this is a steampunk alternate history set in the 1930s. Correia has reimagined history on the premise that during the 19th century, people started finding out they have magic. In this world, Nikola Tesla’s purported weapon of inconceivable destruction is real. World War I still happened, but it did not end the same way: for instance, zombie armies played a crucial role, and the Berlin Wall had a rather different purpose. One of our characters got to (by certain definitions of “got to”) visit the Dead City in this book, and it was wonderfully creepy.

Each chapter begins with “historical” quotations, which seem like they could be actually quotations until you notice the references to magic. There is everything from altered philosophical tracts to invented Dear Miss Manners-type letters, all written in character and in the style of the times. I think this is a great way to set the mood while also providing information about the world, and gives a sense of how deeply Correia conceived of the effects of his alternate history setting. (Also, because I am a nerd, I loved how Correia adapted figures like Tokugawa, Hattori Hanzo, and Saito for his purposes.)

There are a lot of familiar magical powers, along with some new ones and some twists on old ones. At the beginning of this series we don’t understand how the magic works, but the characters understand the basic rules—until our heroes (being heroes) start stretching those rules. This is the kind of magic system I like: people try and rationalize magic a lot of different ways, and people look at it through their own lenses, but ultimately, since it's magic, no one quite understands what they’re dealing with.

We essentially have two constant protagonists throughout the series, though other characters' weight on the plot varies from book to book. Jake Sullivan has been a constant throughout, but he doesn't have much in the way of a character arc. He knows who he is at the beginning, and he's the same person at the end, just with a little more magical muscle. I much preferred getting to see Toru's character arc and how that intertwined with his relationship. This story in many ways is Toru's, and also Faye's.

Faye is our other main protagonist, and she is my favorite. One of my favorite character’s ever. She's a genius, and is both innocent and yet proud of her immense talent for killing everything that thinks it's too badass to be killable.

With Larry Correia’s work, you can pretty much always count on a few things. One is that he will nail all the details on guns. They’re arguably not as important in the Grimnoir Chronicles as they are in Monster Hunter International, but why waste magic if a perfectly good gun will do the trick?

There were a few things that niggled at me in this book aside from Sullivan's lack of character arc. The biggest is his romance with Lady Origami (I swear in context this name makes sense), because it felt completely arbitrary, like a romantic subplot was added just because books are supposed to have one. It was underdeveloped to the point that I wish it just hadn't been a feature at all.

I was reading the ARC, so some of these things might have been adjusted in post, but I also wonder about the scenes from Lady Origami's perspective. She does have another name, which she gets her love interest to call her, and yet in her head she thinks of herself as Lady Origami. I suspect that was done to make it easier for the reader to follow, but it read to me like a POV error. There was also a rampant “As You Know, Bob” problem, which was probably done to remind the reader of previous events, but it wasn't subtle. It also wasn't necessary, so it felt like the author assumes his readers can't keep up, and I don't think that's the case.

The real tragedy about reading the ARC is that I missed all the illustrations in this book, and given the caption for each incredibly awesome character moments and scenes, I'm jealous of all of you who are going to get to see them when you pick this up.

I know this author has gotten criticism for the overt politics in his novels, but I'm not concerned with author or character politics as long as all characters are behaving in a way that makes sense for them, and in most cases the characters' opinions made sense given what they knew. That said, the one discussion that didn't work for me was the dialogue with FDR, in which FDR was set up too blatantly as a straw man.

There were a couple of Chekhov's guns that never went off: I wish Correia had done more with Francis struggling with FDR and the political and economic pressures after making such a big deal of setting them up. I also wish he'd done more with the sociopathic doctor after making such a big deal of bringing him on board.

That said, Correia fired pretty much every other gun he could get his authorial hands on.

One other thing you can count on with Larry Correia? When the shit hits the fan, his characters will buckle down and take care of business and make it a point to prove what humans are made of. It's refreshing. Each side is competent, motivated, and has characters with more than a little steel in their spines who follow their respective senses of honor.

1 comments:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you.
Jake Sullivan has been as constant as gravity :-)

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