Author Interviews

Book Review: A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly


This book was reviewed via Netgalley


Kelly’s A Criminal Magic is the story of an alter-Earth in which magic exists, and to which sorcerers were subject to a magical prohibition during the time of (our) America’s Prohibition on alcohol. It is a bewitching tale spun around two individuals whose families have been ripped asunder by the delicate balance between necessity and addiction, between greed and common sense.


We open with Joan, and her family, who own a ‘magic’ still/ speakeasy, for lack of better words. They run a bar in a teeny cabin in the woods, making magic-infused sorcerer’s shine and performing magic for paying customers. For customer and sorcerer alike, magic can be an intoxicating drug all its own. Joan’s ma, a sorceress, passed recently, and now the cabin is in danger of repossession. Just when things are looking down, along comes a Mr Gunn, looking for high-caliber sorcerers. Joan leaves with him, hoping his offer of potential work can help her support her brother and cousin, removing them from the danger of their unstable sorcerer uncle


Half across the country is Alex, another sorcerer training to be a Prohibition agent. We first meet him going to a ‘shine’ party with his friend Warren. After getting into a brawl with Warren, and subsequently dispelling the magic protecting shine party, Alex is given a choice- go to prison for real, or go as an undercover agent to infiltrate the notorious Shaws gang through a prisoner named Howie. Alex is successful, and when he is released he has earned a place as one of the Shaws gang.


Joan and Alex cross paths, and fall hard for one another. Unfortunately for them, the ever-shifting sands of gang alliances puts them on opposite sides. Will they break promises made to themselves and others, or change the rules altogether.


I happen to love reading about the time of Prohibition, and of the rise of the Mafia during this time, and the interplay between different gangs. Using magic in place of alcohol was intriguing, and illustrated yet again how xenophobic man can be, when ‘xeno-’ is taken properly as ‘the unknown’. Xenophobia and jealousy define so many of the strictures some men force on the others, on society as a whole. That, and a sense of self-righteousness, that their way is the only way. Yea, we see how well that worked with our own Prohibition on alcohol.


This is a story of how the seductive siren song of power (of any flavour) plays havoc with the weak-willed, and weak-minded. Many of the sorcerers seemed to succumb to it, while others wielded it to terrifying effect to subjugate others. Magic really is a drug there, where sorcerers are dealers who can control and manipulate ‘shine’ junkies, or who fall to the sweet addiction themselves. Banning something, though, only makes man seek it all the harder. We are curious, quite nearly as cats, and forbidden things have a certain ‘ooh, shiny’ flair, drawing us in like magpies. But for all those who abuse power, there are those who put it to good use.


This cover. Elegant in its simplicity, it captures the essence of the book quite well. Beautiful description  threads through this masterpiece, painting dazzling pictures upon the canvas of the mind’s eye. But that’s a book’s, especially a great book’s, job, is it not? To help visit places just beyond the veil?. ‘Twilight paints the grass… in broad strokes of emerald and shadow, and streetlamps act like glowing alchemists, turning the… cobblestone walkway into gold.’ I just love this.


A Criminal Magic surely worked its magic on me. My ‘shine’ high is wearing off and I want my next dose!
????? Highly recommended

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