A Criminal Magic – Lee Kelly

About the Book

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.

It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine.

Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC’s most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family’s home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.

Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic – and when their paths cross at the Shaws’ performance venue, despite their orders, and despite themselves, Joan and Alex become enchanted with one another. But when gang alliances begin to shift, the two sorcerers are forced to question their ultimate allegiances and motivations. And soon, Joan and Alex find themselves pitted against each other in a treacherous, heady game of cat-and-mouse.

A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.

432 pages (hardcover)
Published on February 2, 2016
Published by Saga Press
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wow, I’m late writing this one.

A Criminal Magic interested me from the get-go. I’m really into alternative histories, and I haven’t yet read one deal with the infamous Roaring Twenties and prohibition, where magic is what is prohibited, and the magic underground is flourishing because of that. It’s a fantastic twist on a time period that most Americans know well.

The underground culture is fantastic. Magic is addictive, and therefore it has been banned. There are hidden hidey holes and bars where people can go and get their fix. Addiction is shown in stark contrast to the fun people have with the substance(s) that are traded. Furthermore, there is a criminal aspect with trading and stealing magical items and supplies. Shows are put on to entertain people and lure in customers. It’s a roaring hidden market that is forced into hiding through the banning of it by the Federal Government. And honestly, that was a very addictive aspect of the novel.

Into this immersive setting, our two protagonists are introduced. Joan is from humble beginnings, and is a sorcerer who is trying to do right by her impoverished family. She accepts a proposal to work for the notorious Shaw gang that she can’t refuse in the hopes to keep food in the bellies of her siblings and better their lives. On the other hand, we have Alex, who has a complicated past. At the start of the novel he is introduced as a young, confused, angry man who is on the road to becoming an incredibly corrupt cop when he is offered a job to infiltrate the Shaw gang and become a mole. It’s interesting how different their backgrounds are, and how that creates such diverse perspectives about the situations they find themselves in.

Most of this book takes place in the criminal magic underground, the shadowed world that prohibition has created. The book moves pretty quickly, and it is quite immersive throughout the whole thing. The ending was fantastic, and the writing was absolutely wonderful. There really isn’t anything to complain about there. Between the protagonists, their dynamic personality, diverse backgrounds, and everything that happens throughout the book.

There were a few issues, however, that kept this book from being completely amazing. First of all, the protagonists are very well crafted but the secondary characters never quite felt as three dimensional as the protagonists. Some of the situations felt kind of forced, which created some somewhat unbelievable relationship dynamics. Furthermore, it took a little bit for me to realize that this book was, in fact, geared toward adults rather than young adults. That’s really not a negative point, because in some ways I do think that this could be a crossover novel for more mature teens. However, it left me feeling rather… uncertain about the tone itself.

None of that is a deal breaker for the novel. In fact, I loved this book and devoured it in near record time. I absolutely adored Kelly’s writing and I thought the setting and this carefully crafted illegal culture was fantastic. There was so much that was good about this book, that I really had to sit here for a while to think of some potential downsides to A Criminal Magic, and that says something. When it takes dedicated thought to think of negative aspects of a book, it means you’ve got one hell of a good book on your hands.

I’d recommend this one without reservation.


4/5 stars


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