The Hook: Yancy Lazarus is a mage — a chain-smoking, hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, blues-loving rambler of a mage. He also has a reputation for being something of a fixer, thanks in no small part to his tendency to help out folks caught up in nasty supernatural situations, when, really he should know better. Really, he should. But when innocent lives are on the line he can’t just stand by and do nothing. And when someone sends a hyena ninja hitman to take him out … well, he kind of takes that personally ….
The Analysis: Hunter has a real gift for both world-building and creating complex characters. Allusions are made to a Guild which oversees magic-users, and that Lazarus does not get along with them particularly well (or at all). The drug-runners and gun-runners with whom Lazarus finds himself allied are definitely not nice people, but they are not presented as caricatures; they love their families and friends, and are fiercely loyal and protective of one another. The magic system itself is also explained, but in a conversational way, like Lazarus has sat down next to the reader at a bar and is spinning a tall tale.
I’ve never encountered a magic system in an urban fantasy story quite like this one. Essentially, magic is a combination of life force (Vim) and potential energy (Vis), formed by will; and once that potential energy manifests in the physical world (as wind or fire or water or whatever), it must operate by the laws of physics. So, all mages are also physicists. Lazarus can summon fire if he wants, but, once it manifests, it will function just like any other flame; so, surrounding himself with a wall of fire might sound cool, but there’s a good chance he’ll burn himself to a crisp.
From a Pagan perspective, the theology could be described as polytheistic; maybe a variation on monolatry or henotheism. References are made to a capital-G God, and to a heaven and hell; but there an untold number of other gods, godlings, demigods, and assorted spirits running around. They play a significant role in Strange Magic, and I have a feeling that holds true for the rest of the series.
The Verdict: This is a fun, fun, fun first volume. Hunter was right to subtitle it the “pilot episode,” because it reads like a television show in my head. The dialogue is fast and loose and snarky, there are chase sequences and near misses, really awful monsters, an insane villain who thinks he’s the hero of the story … oh, and more monsters, plus lots and lots of guns and lots of explosions and some really cool magic.
Definitely recommended to fans of The Dresden Files by Butcher, the Daggers and Steele series by Berg, the Immortal Vegas books by Stark, the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series by Bellet, the InCryptid books by McGuire, and the Hellblazer comic and Constantine television series.