Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Answering Review Request: "Strange Magic"

James Hunter asked me to read his book "Strange Magic - A Yancy Lazarus story". It is an Urban Fantasy staring a Mage Detective. I will examine Plot, Character, and Polish and then assign a grade.


What we have here is a mystery. Yancy Lazarus is called in by a friend to investigate supernatural murders and two gangs start gunning for him because they believe him to be responsible. What follows is Yancy figuring out what's happening and then defeating the one truly responsible. This part is kind of confusing because of all the misdirection, manipulation and one case of shapeshifting, but Yancy and company were confused by it too until they got it straightened out so it's an Intended Audience Reaction.

In addition to the mystery there is something more traditionally fantasy; a hero (despite your protests, Yancy, you are one) receives the Call to Adventure, goes on a journey and experiences numerous trials and tribulations over the course of this adventure. He also gathers a party of warriors and they storm an evil sorcerer's lair to kill him and rescue a damsel in distress. It just happens in California and the warriors are gangsters.

The tone is gritty. There's a spectrum of morality spanning dark grey to black, many of the locations are dirty and/or dangerous, and there's several foul-mouthed pissing contests between the power players here.
It's not easy or glamorous being "The Fixer". I'd say the only fight where Yancy doesn't get beat up real bad is the first one, and in this verse, Healing Magic is the Hardest so he has to tough it out. The combat magic, on the other hand, can get really messy really quickly.

The world building is good.  1.) There's lots of stuff about how magic works; its mechanics and possibilities and limitations. It also happens to sound cool when described.  2.) There's a supernatural world constructed around the modern day real life analog and not in the sense of this tiny little sphere while the rest blend in with the muggles. It is a universe of which the muggle world is only one, small, part. It's interesting stuff.  3.) There's a blend of mythological monsters, home-brewed monsters, and monsters of the human variety. In other words, the author generates plenty of baddies for Yancy to blow away with either flame lances or bullets.

The ending is good. The main conflict is resolved, no loose ends, and all in a concise and tone appropriate manner.


Yancy Lazarus is built from the same mold as Harry Dresden; a smart-ass magical detective, who doesn't think of himself as a hero despite doing heroic things all the time, and has a troubled history with the organization that governs mages like himself. However, there are differences too.

Yancy is an old mage; sixty five years old. When other men hope to retire, this one is fighting street gangs, evil mages, and savage monsters. Wizards Live Longer in this verse so he still has the physical condition of someone in their forties but he has still sixty five years of memories to look back on.

There's this sense of his age. He's old enough to have grandchildren, but he's never met them.
He's a veteran of the Vietnam War where he served as a US marine. There's a chapter about that and how his first experience with life-or-death combat affected him.

Shortly before the war itself he was stationed in Japan and took up kenjutsu because he was a fan of cheesy movies like Buddha's Palm. It's an interesting aspect that expands his characterization and also provides a useful skill in his line of work.

The people Yancy meets are a rough bunch, both his allies and his enemies. The running theme is that while they are nasty people, they are still people and not monsters. There's the Saints of Chaos, drug runners and gun smugglers, who have a strong sense of solidarity between them and gratitude for others that help them. There's the 16th Street Kings, who think nothing of shooting someone in the head for acting disrespectful, but are themselves professional and polite in their dirty dealings and their boss is a doting dad. Even the Big Bad himself is a Well Intentioned Extremist who believes he's making the world a better place with his villainous actions.

This is contrasted and underscored with real monsters in the Raksasha and Daitya; creatures from Hinduism that kill in brutal ways. The former act like Elite Mooks that are Always Chaotic Evil, and the later are Sealed Evil in a Can that want to unleash a still worse evil to wipe out country sized civilizations.

Harold the Mange is the most developed and distinct after Yancy himself. He is an obese dwarf thing that works as an info broker and Way creator (customized magic portals). He's so flabby that he connected himself to a set of spider legs for mobility.  He's shifty, cowardly and Yancy thinks of him as something like a stereotypical nerd. He also happens to be fantastic at what he does.


The book looks good over all. I found one typo.

There was just one thing in this section that I did not like. There's never any frame narrative for the first person narration. The way Yancy narrates, it's as if he is holding a conversation with the reader and is anticipating their comments and/or questions. If someone is constantly breaking the fourth wall, I'd like to hear something about that. Does it have to do with the Vis? It does not affect the grade because it's a style preference.

Trickster Eric Novels gives "Strange Magic - a Yancy Lazarus novel" an A+

This has been a free review request. I received nothing in exchange for it except a free copy of the book.

Click here for the next review request: Heart of Stone

Click here for the previous review request: Keepers of the Dawn

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