I don't often review stuff. If you aren't just a reviewer, its so easy to offend friends and colleagues by giving their books anything but glowing praise. I should know. Even through we all say 'tell me the truth', there is a part of us that still doesn't like to be told our latest baby isn't perfect.
This, though, is an exception. 'Hard Magic' blew me away almost as soon as I started listening to it (I consume a lot of audiobooks). With audiobooks, the narrator is hugely important. Who is reading it and how can make or break the best book in the world. All it needs is a screechy voice, or an irritating odd pronunciation of a word, and the book is lost. You could call it a limitation.
Bronson Pinchot narrates Hard Magic, and he is masterful. He easily passes between an eighty year old man dying of a wasting disease to a teenage Okie and all points in between, making you believe each voice, and is a one man theatrical experience.
Correia is a force to be reckoned with, and can I first point out how deeply annoyed I am at how many really good ideas he has consumed in this book - and I wish I had used them first. The story has 1930's Steampunk, Alternate reality, Urban Fantasy and even elements of science fiction bound together by one of the most original interpretations of magic I've seen for a while, with a kind of Micky Spillane tone over the top of everything.
All right, the overall shape of the story is a fairly well used 'team of slightly under-powered supers taking on the invincible bad guy', but Correia twists it just enough to make it feel almost fresh, and it actually gives the story a somehow comfortable frame to hang in while he does all the other clever bits.
One of two of the characters lack dimension, but they tend to be minor, and the depth of the half-dozen or so prime movers more than makes up for this slight. Shining above them all is Fay (or Faye) who is one of the most masterful pieces of characterisation I have seen in a long time; starting as an almost co-incidental nobody in the first chapter, and ending up as the one person you really care about by the end.
It's not for the younger reader, and there is bad language and violence. But it was simply too good not to say something.