Baen, 2011, 448 pages
Dark fantasy goes hardboiled in Book II of the hard-hitting Grimnoir Chronicles by the New York Times best-selling creator of Monster Hunter International. The Grimnoir Society’s mission is to protect people with magic, and they’ve done so—successfully and in secret—since the mysterious arrival of the Power in the 1850s, but when a magical assassin makes an attempt on the life of President Franklin Roosevelt, the crime is pinned on the Grimnoir. The knights must become fugitives while they attempt to discover who framed them. Things go from bad to worse when Jake Sullivan, former P.I. and knight of the Grimnoir, receives a telephone call from a dead man—a man he helped kill. Turns out the Power jumped universes because it was fleeing from a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. That predator has just landed on Earth.
This is the second book in the Grimnoir trilogy. I enjoyed the first book, Hard Magic, much more than I thought I would, so I pushed the next book up on my queue. In this alternate history, something from another world came to Earth in the 1850s, granting magical superpowers to a small percentage of the population. Now these magical "Actives" are being persecuted by the government. The conspiracy to round up and incarcerate or eliminate all Actives is what drives much of the action in Spellbound, though the real threat is something much worse.
Most of the characters are returnees from book one. Jake Sullivan is the smarter-than-he-looks gravity-controlling bruiser and war hero, but the real protagonist is Faye Vierra, the super-smart, super-fast Okie girl with teleportation powers, ninja fighting abilities, and ADD. She is a hoot and a half and obviously the author's darling.
Most of our other (surviving) friends from Hard Magic are back too, and as the 30s roll on, Correia continues to insert historical figures into his magical alt-history. Interestingly, it looks like there will be no World War II, or at least a very different one, since we learn here that Hitler got put up against a wall in Germany when he first starting making trouble.
But that's okay, because in this version of history, the Japanese Imperium is becoming nigh-unstoppable. In addition to a massive military and superior technology, they also have the most powerful Actives in the world, notably their elite Iron Guard, whom we met in the last book. Chairman Tokugawa, the Big Bad of the previous volume, makes a cameo here to let Jake Sullivan know that things are only going to get worse.
Correia does a good job of weaving the two threats simultaneously throughout the book: the erosion of civil rights threatening the knights of the Grimnoir from their own government, and the cosmic horror that is apparently approaching Earth to destroy the source of all magic, and the planet. A new character joins the cast in the form of an Iron Guard gone ronin.
Mostly this is another action adventure with loads of cinematic fight scenes, culminating in a battle in Washington D.C. against a 70-foot-tall demon. (Really.) Like Hard Magic, Spellbound may purport to be an alt-history fantasy, but it's really a superhero novel.
It's also the middle of a trilogy, which means you'll miss a lot if you haven't read the first book, and not much is resolved at the end of this one. But it continues to be highly entertaining high adventure, not terribly deep but great fun. Correia is starting to let his politics creep out a bit more (FDR is apparently going to be the Worst President Ever), but it's mostly held in check until the villainous leftist fall-guy's monologue at the end, where he practically twirls his mustache and cackles villainous leftist laughter.
Notwithstanding the straw-leftists, though, it's still a fun series. The third book in the series, Warbound, has been nominated for a Hugo, so I will be reading it soon.
Verdict: An entertaining action adventure with pulp sci-fi robots and evil super-powered samurai against hard-boiled American wizard-superheroes. This is not a deep series, but it's much more entertaining than all that alt-Victoriana steampunk crap.
Also by Larry Correia: My review of Hard Magic.
My complete list of book reviews.