Thursday, May 19, 2016

Crimes Against Magic (Hellequin Chronicles #1) by Steve McHugh

Nathan Garrett has had his memory taken from him and has therefore spent the last ten years knowing nothing about himself but his first and last name.  He's spent the intermittent years working as a thief, using magic when necessary to get by.  When a chance meeting leads little droplets of memory returning, Nathan has no idea just how complicated the life he left behind was.  If that were not enough, an old enemy has surfaced and is determined to take make the people Nathan cares about pay to bring about and end to their centuries old feud.

Crimes Against Magic floats between 15th century France and the present day. I normally don't have a problem with flashbacks if they add something significant to the story but found that they kept pulling me away from the exciting action that was happening in the present.  Furthermore, any tension in 15 century France was impossible to maintain for the simple fact that we know that hundreds of years later, Nathan would be facing the antagonist once again.   If anything, the time in the 15th century was used for a blatant info dump about who Nathan is. It certainly didn't add anything to the current days meta.

In what should have been an interesting twist, McHugh created an extremely magically diverse world.  Picture a world in which werewolves, vampires, King Arthur and his court, Mordred, gargoyles, The Fates and Achilles are real and have a role to play. It should have been epic but at times it really just felt like supernatural name dropping. For instance, what is the point of invoking a wizard as powerful as Merlin but then not utilizing him as a character whatsoever? Even Achilles was a fake.

There are several familiar themes running through Crimes Against Magic.  It's best described as Harry Dresden meets Jason Bourne  meets James Bond.   I must admit to being excited by the premise; however, it quickly became clear that Nathan Garrett is little more than an epic Gary Stu. Nathan is so perfect that women either want to play the damsel for him, sacrifice themselves for him, or fuck his brains out.  What they all have in common is that they are all gorgeous.  This means that none of the female characters, even those who are powerful, really get the development that they deserve. Instead, we got the pleasure of having a woman beaten near to death for Nathan's pain. Sure Nathan feels bad but once he figures out who he really is, he's got better things to do than stick around.

At times I couldn't help but think that if it were not for plot armour, Nathan would be too stupid to live.  I suppose that is always the case when it comes to these kinds of stories. Twice, Mordred puts Nathan into a position of having to chose between apprehending him and saving a damsel in distress.  Okay once it happens but on the second occasion, why the hell wasn't Nathan prepared to act?  Then there's Achilles, who gives Nathan 24 hours to dig up some information that he hid.  Why oh why wouldn't you have someone follow him?  Why would Nathan assume that he isn't being followed? For that matter, why the hell would Nathan just walk right into the lions den in the first place unarmed to make an arrangement?  None of it makes plausible sense. In a final insult to intelligence, when Nathan gets his memories back, he waits on top of a building for Mordred to show up and then uses a sniper rifle to kill him. Not only is this anticlimactic, it made me wonder why he didn't so this years ago?

In terms of inclusion, there's not really much to speak of in Crimes Against Magic, despite the fact that it's set in modern day London.  The all straight, white, cisgender able bodied London that McHugh portrayed was absolutely unrecognizable.  It's not enough to write about the tube and have characters regularly use that rather than driving to give a place a proper sense.  London is an international city and should have been portrayed as such.  Speaking of problems with the setting, I also found it disturbing that Nathan casually walked around with a sword and a gun.  To make the explosions and the gunshots work, McHugh essentially had to turn the London police into incompetent bumbling fools. Given the British strong feelings about gun control and weapons in general, this just didn't sit well with me.

I know that I've said a lot of negative things about Crimes Against Magic but I really do think that when it comes to this book, it's a case of your mileage may vary.  If you really like James Bond, Jason Bourne etc., this might be a story that will really work for you.  The action scenes are really well written and are extremely vivid.  To me, they read right out of the plot of an action thriller movie and constituted the best parts of Crimes Against Magic.  In fact, if you go into this book simply looking for an action packed story then you might really enjoy it.  For all of its faults, I read Crimes Against Magic rather quickly, though this kind of alpha male type set up really isn't my thing per say. I certainly wasn't blown away, but I am willing to give this series another shot.