Strange Magic (Yancy Lazarus #1) by James A Hunter

Strange Magic - James Hunter

Yancy Lazerus, wizard, rambler, rogue, musician has lived a long, exciting life and now wants to spend his time eating good ribs and listening to good Blues. But his bleeding heart would never let him stay quiet when people are in trouble – especially when his oldest friend Greg calls him to deal with demons ripping apart people.


Of course, even if he could ignore his conscious – he can’t ignore the fact he has been framed for the deaths and there are a lot of angry men with guns who want to shoot him in the head.






I really like this world setting. It’s a classic every-supernatural-there-ever-is all squashed in, so I won’t say it’s inherently original, but it has original twists. It feels very Dresden Files with just a little more gritty thrown in. With such a wide array of creatures to call upon, Strange Magic has gone in a generally different direction – the beings of the Hub and the creatures from Hindu mythology are not things I’ve seen very often before.


I also quite like the idea of the Hub, again, it’s not entirely something I haven’t seen before, but this gritty melting pot has a lot of potential and interesting additions to the story. On top of this, we got a lot of nicely detailed world building and description that screams of books and books of notes that really makes both the magic system and the magical world seem very rich and fully fleshed out – I like that a lot


This world has immense potential.


And Yancy runs through this world in a rather wonderful Noir investigation. Through gritty and grim Blues bars in the real world to equally gritty bars in the Hub – the world is shown to great advantage with the story taking us to many parts of it and revealing lots of aspects of it along the way. It has the building blocks to being an excellent supernatural Noir story. But there’s some problems that hold it back from that excellence


The first of which is Yancy is supposed to be 60 and look about 40. I don’t really believe this – his voice, his dialogue, his mind set all makes me think teenager or, at very best, early 20s. It’s not entirely a bad voice for someone who is that young – and a young wizard running around snarking away with this much banter and even childishness would be kind of fun. But he isn’t a wizard in his early 20s – nor would the characterisation be solid enough for that.

Because we take this wisecracking, snarking, 60 year old teenager and then desperately try to pain Noir all over him. It’s really clumsy and jarring. We’ll have several lines of Noir exposition describing how gritty and dark and seedy the place is, the grimy jazz clubs and a lot of the general staples of Film Noir – and then into the middle of it runs this wisecracking frat boy making juvenile jokes (albeit sometimes funny ones) and generally not so much breaking the mood as shattering it with big big hammers. Which is a shame because a lot of effort has been made in setting the tone of the world


And it’s not the only break in the writing. As we’re going through the story there’s these sudden, huge flashbacks in an attempt to exposition Yancy’s character. Sudden derail into his time in Viet Nam or his dad cooking ribs or absent family that he’s no longer part of or a woman he once loved. Even without the flashbacks, there’s sudden long, overly detailed exposition about Blues music or his favourite gun. Would these be interesting character nuggets? Potentially, yes – but they’re dropped in almost randomly and in far more detail than they need to be. They also don’t work as character creation because Yancy himself is so confused as a character – these flashes to the past are nostalgic, sad and often painful – they’re supposed to be poignant and even scarring; but Yancy as a character only occasionally has the depth (he’s pretty inconsistent) to carry this kind of history. Again, I feel like there’s this 20 year old character and all this back story has been thrown at him but it isn’t sticking and the character we're left with is a bit lost.



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