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Lee Kelly’s A CRIMINAL MAGIC is a Rip Roaring Alt History Treat


BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Once prohibited by the government with the passing of the 18th amendment in 1926, magic, powerful and addictive, becomes criminal and ripe for gangster profiteering and manipulation.

PROS: A wonderful magic system ripe for (hopefully) future installments; sizzling chemistry between characters; a strong overall cast; a smooth as silk alt history.
CONS: The character growth feels a tad slow to purposely stretch through the end of the book.
BOTTOM LINE: An alt history of magic and gangsters will have you holding your breath until the very end to see where all the chips will fall.

In 1926 the government has prohibited sorcery via the 18th amendment, making it a profitable business for the magic dealing underworld. Illicit magic performance dens, run by ruthless gangs, provide a glimpse of magic, for paying customers, along with an addictive drink known as sorcerer’s shine. Recruited by one of the prominent gang families, Joan Kendrick, a young, new sorcerer, finds herself doing whatever it will take for her family back home in Norfolk, VA.

Alex Danfrey, still in his first year with the Federal Prohibition Unit, finds himself, and his talents, swept into an undercover operation. A delicate situation where he must wear many masks while still trying to figure out who he is underneath.

Joan and Alex soon find their paths intertwined as both grow into their own and seek out the path they must take to survive the world of criminal magic.

This is Lee Kelly’s second novel but her first adult novel. I should warn you, this book sits right in my wheelhouse. I’ve long adored stories of gangsters, magic, and the roaring 20’s. I used to sit and read the encyclopedia entries about the mafia and prohibition. Kelly has combined three of my favorite things into one book which translated to a single-sitting read. Basically, I couldn’t read this book fast enough and would get mad at the slow connection between my eyes and brain.

The magic battle scenes are deftly written with flawless choreography and attention to detail. I was never confused about who went where, or how, when the action was really flying and made for some real edge-of-your-seat scenes. (That whole couldn’t read fast enough thing I mentioned earlier? Yeah, the magic battle scenes are when I wished I was more like Dr. Spencer Reid so I could read in a more osmosis fashion.)

Kelly paints a world where the magic runs deep within family roots. Only a select few will show a genetic ability to wield the sorcery of their family line. Because of the ancestral link built into the magic, there is a richness felt in every spell. It also adds a level of potential darkness as some magicians dig up those family roots.

Each chapter shifts between Joan and Alex’s POV but never feels jarring. I actually enjoyed getting both perspectives, sometimes of the same event, and being able to experience the story with both characters. Both Joan and Alex fall within the college age range causing the internal character development for each to stretch throughout most of the book giving it more of a New Adult category feel. The character growth did seem to hold the story back a bit from barreling full steam ahead and is the reason I held back from a full five stars.

Basically, I inhaled the book because I just couldn’t stop reading. It sucks you in and doesn’t let go. Kelly has created an alt history I hope to see again in follow-up books (and dare I dream, on the big screen). I’ve already been telling my friends to be on the look out for this title and now I’m telling you, don’t miss this captivating read!

About Shana DuBois (8 Articles)
Shana is an extreme bibliophile that spends every spare moment surrounding herself with books. She recently started a monthly column at Luna Station Quarterly called Beyond the Front Tables where she highlights small and independent presses. She can also be found on her own blog, BooksAbound, from time to time or more frequently fluttering around the Twitterverse as @booksabound.
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