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Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles (original 2011; edition 2011)

by Larry Correia (Author), Alan Pollack (Cover artist)

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124597,109 (4.19)6
Member:JohnFair
Title:Spellbound: Book II of the Grimnoir Chronicles
Authors:Larry Correia (Author)
Other authors:Alan Pollack (Cover artist)
Info:Baen (2011), Hardcover, 448 pages
Collections:Borrowed
Rating:**1/2
Tags:alternate history, magic, magic users, dictatorship

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Spellbound by Larry Correia (2011)

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The second book in the Grimnoir Chronicles, Spellbound aspires to be as mediocre as Hard Magic, and in many ways it succeeds. The book has many extended fight scenes with detailed descriptions of the weaponry everyone uses and the resulting gory, but almost always nonfatal wounds that result. The book also has a mostly identical array of two-dimensional characters living in the same fairly bland setting as its predecessor all going through the motions of a fairly thin plot. Unfortunately, Spellbound suffers from a problem common to many second books in a series: What little plot there is serves merely as a placeholder, delaying the resolution of any of the larger plot points in the series while adding almost nothing at all.

The book opens with a short interlude that amounts to something of a flashback to a time contemporaneous with the Second Battle of the Somme where an unnamed young French girl finds herself the sole surviving member of her family after a mysterious stranger slaughters them and then hunts for her. She is saved by an equally mysterious set of rescuers, who suffer heavy losses at the hands of the original interloper. As usual for this series, not much useful information is provided here, the flashback to World War I serves as little more than an excuse to have an as yet unexplained fight scene so lacking in context that the reader really has no reason to care about the outcome before the story moves back to the "present" of the 1930s and focus on the "hero" Jake Sullivan and the rest of his Grimnoir buddies.

The story proper opens several months after the end of Hard Magic, with Francis Stuyvesant and Heinrich Koenig foiling a magical assassination attempt against President Franklin Roosevelt, and Faye being grilled by the elders of the Grimnoir Society concerning her claim to have killed the Chairman at the end of the previous book. Meanwhile, Sullivan has taken up haunting libraries trying to figure out the secrets of magic. His studies in the New York City Library are interrupted by an attractive woman who he rebuffs, but later comes across outside in an alleyway where she is being menaced by a gang of robbers. Sullivan reluctantly decides to step in to help the mysterious woman out of her predicament, at which point any pretense of his being anything resembling a heroic character is tossed out of the window. It becomes quickly and readily apparent that this gang of small time toughs pose no actual threat whatsoever to Sullivan, and yet he makes sure to go out of his way to maim them - breaking bones, damaging internal organs, and so on. It seems quite obvious that Correia thinks that this is what one should be justified in doing when confronted by criminals, but what it actually seems like is as if a fully grown and perfectly healthy adult were "threatened" by a couple of eight year old children, and the adult's reaction was to pull out a knife and repeatedly stab the kids. Through the main plot of the book, the government takes some rather heavy-handed steps to regulate those imbued with magic powers, and Sullivan's vicious and thuggish behavior in this scene gives good cause as to why. This viciousness on Sullivan's part is only compounded by the fact that Pemberly Hammer, the menaced woman, essentially set up her would-be assailants as patsies in order to figure out if Sullivan was the man she was looking for on behalf of the OCI.

The primary plot of Spellbound revolves around this shadowy organization which is given the name the Office of the Coordinator of Information, which is one of the most clumsily named made-up government agencies in fiction, and which is also known as the "OCI". Despite the fact that the OCI seems to have tentacles of influence that extend across the country, the agency seems to have only three categories of employees: (a) the Coordinator Doctor Bradford Carr, who is also somewhat oddly described as a Senator, (b) the mentally unbalanced summoner known as Crow who can possess demonic creatures, and (c) faceless mooks who appear to exist solely to stumble around ineffectually until the Grimnoir Knights can kill them. This doesn't seem to be much of a foundation upon which to build an agency intended to rival J. Edgar Hoover's Bureau of Investigation. The apparently sparse nature of the OCI's personnel isn't the only thing that seems underdeveloped about the agency - essentially Correia appears to not really know how government agencies work, and doesn't seem to have bothered to inform himself. Carr is referred to at points as a Senator, but if he is heading up an executive agency, he can't be a Senator, he can only be a former Senator as members of the legislative branch cannot also serve in the executive branch. Early in the book Crow shows up at a police station where Francis is being held due to his proximity to the attempt on President Roosevelt's life, apparently flashing the badge of the then almost entirely unknown OCI to get in to interrogate the playboy turned industrialist. But simply throwing out an unknown badge isn't going to give anyone access to a prisoner being held by state police, let alone allow you to have a solo interrogation of them. And so on. There are a myriad of implausible events related to the OCI that simply drain the book's credibility away. And if you are structuring the main plot of your book around the bureaucratic maneuverings of your made-up federal agency, these are details that you should at least try to get right, because if you don't, and Correia didn't, then your book becomes unintentionally humorous.

In any event, the plot of the book can be split into three broad categories. In one vein, the Knights of the Grimnoir society are on the run, accused as conspiring to kill the President and hounded throughout the book by the mysterious and nefarious OCI. There is a lot of motion in this plot, with Faye Vierra driving cross-country through Oklahoma with a collection of new characters who seem to have been mostly introduced so they could get killed: Ian, Whisper, and Bolander, who is the first black character introduced into the story. Their travels are interrupted when Crow shows up and tries to capture them all, slowly assuming a massive demonic form before Bolander drives Crow off just before he seizes Faye and at the same time kills himself with one mighty blast of electrical energy that coincidentally cures the magical blight that had caused the dust bowl. Someone who was cynical might note that the singular black character introduced into the story becomes an example of the "beneficent magical black man who saves the white folk" trope, and couple this realization with the rather pronounced "yellow peril" themes contained in the story to perhaps find the whole tenor of the book somewhat off-putting. It doesn't really help matters that the reader is given little reason to care about Bolander before he dies, as he is basically a genial black man who accepts segregation with equanimity and can throw lightning bolts. As this story progresses, it becomes clear that Whisper has an ulterior motive for traveling with Faye: She had been sent to determine if Faye had somehow become the new "Spellbound", and if so, to kill her.

In the second story line, Jake Sullivan is lured from New York to New Jersey into a secret government facility where he receives a phone call from a dead man on an invention ascribed to Edison. One has to wonder why Tokugawa insists on only talking to Sullivan; after all, Sullivan had almost no role in Tokugawa's death, and only survived his fight with Madi because Madi kept having Sullivan brought back from the brink of death so Madi could beat him up some more. No matter the reason, Tokugawa informs Sullivan that the "Pathfinder" of the predator hunting the power that creates magic is on its way and that Sullivan has to warn the Iron Guard of the Imperium of the impending threat. Of course, no sequence in Spellbound is complete without gun play, so immediately afterwards government agents try to kill Sullivan, equipped with some sort of device that nullifies Sullivan's magic, although that proves to be only a modest impediment to his escape. After evading the government officers, Sullivan links up with his friends from the first book Dan, Jane, and Lance, and they head over to the Imperial embassy to try to pass on the warning. Things go about as well as one would expect, and they end up lobbing mortar shells at the embassy after Toru, an out of favor Iron Guard and second in command at the embassy, gets orders from a man who appears to be Chairman Tokugawa to kill the ambassador and the Grimnoir Knights. Oddly, even after Toru is given all of the ambassador's memories and knows that the Chairman is an impostor, he kills the ambassador anyway, and then sneaks away to join the Grimnoir Knights to help them against the Pathfinder.

In the final story line, Francis has turned his considerable financial resources to locating the manufacturer of the anti-magic device that both he and Sullivan encountered earlier in the book, eventually purchasing a company run by Buckminster Fuller, who is such a powerful "cog" that he can literally see magical geometry. The device Fuller has created, which he calls a "Dymaxion nullifier" turns out to be essentially a hand-waved device that reveals that the magic system integral to the book is basically nonsensical. Francis attempts to get Fuller to explain how the device works, and Fuller responds with a couple of paragraphs of magic-sounding meaningless arcanobabble. And soon it becomes clear that Fuller isn't going to utter any statements that are anything other than arcanobabble because Correia is not only too lazy to do any research, he's too lazy to come up with anything but gobbledegook as a framework for the magical structure that his entire book series is built upon. This sort of careless hand-waving and confusion runs throughout the book. Somehow the "Spellbound" curse got transferred from its previous holder to Faye, even though she was on an entirely different continent and had no magical powers of her own, but the exact nature of how this happened is hand-waved. Carr has apparently figured out how to drastically enhance the magical potential of people with a magical pattern imprinted on their skin, but exactly how this as figured out, and how it works is hand-waved (not to mention that none of the Grimnoir seem to think that maybe they should look into this sort of enhancement). Industrialists are depicted as both being willing to sell out the United States for a handful of gold, and at the same time portrayed as a potentially staunch and patriotic bulwark against government tyranny. This sort of sloppy, hand-waving and confusion is endemic in the story, probably because for the most part, it is fairly obvious that to the extent there is either a plot or world-building in the book, it is just to have a frame upon which to hang the bone-crunching fight scenes complete with loving descriptions of firearms and detailed accounts of how the protagonists have killed those who oppose them.

All three story lines eventually merge together, climaxing in the Grimnoir Knights launching a night-time assault on the OCI headquarters on Mason Island that eventually results in the destruction of the entire island and the unleashing of a massive Godzilla-sized demonic creature upon the city of Washington D.C. As an aside, Mason Island is, in our world, now named Theodore Roosevelt Island, and is the site of a memorial to Theodore Roosevelt. Given his little regard Correia seems to hold Franklin Roosevelt, I suspect that the selection of Roosevelt Island as the site for the OCI headquarters was intended as something of an oblique insult directed at the Roosevelts given that the island is magically annihilated as a result of the fracas. This also seems like a case in which Correia didn't bother to do much research, as there is a reason why no one has built an office buildings on the island - it is essentially little more than a frequently flooded pile of mud and sand anchored by some large rocks, and would likely be a disastrous site for any substantial construction. In any event, Sullivan and several other Grimnoir storm the island and kill off a bunch of faceless OCI guards before Crow shows up, his kind of magic being one of the few that is unaffected by the large Dymaxion the OCI uses to protect its installation. Meanwhile, Francis and Heinrich, having been captured and imprisoned earlier in the book by the OCI, manage to escape when Sullivan's team manages to knock out said Dymaxion, but not before Francis manages to inscribe a magical rune on the floor of his cell that seems to eat reality. Once the Dymaxion is knocked out, the Grimnoir gain the upper hand in the plodding and tedious fight: Capturing Coordinator Carr, seizing incriminating documents, freeing the faceless magically inclined people the OCI was holding as prisoners to experiment upon, and destroying the magical robot-men OCI had purchased as additional guardians.

But an overlong and incredibly detailed firefight involving an assault against a secret government agency and the destruction of an entire island in the Potomac River was apparently not dramatic enough for Correia's tastes, so Crow attempts to possess the most powerful demon he had ever encountered, and is mentally overwhelmed by the creature, who then proceeds to stomp around Washington D.C. like a giant Toho movie monster. This sequence adds almost nothing to the book, but does give the author opportunities to describe all of the weaponry futilely deployed against the monster. In the end, Whisper kills herself to provide additional power for Faye's abilities, telling Faye that the modest amount of additional power she was deriving from the hundreds of non-magically inclined people killed in the grain demon's rampages were simply not enough to give Faye the power needed to defeat the creature. This is problematic for a couple of reasons. First, as with Bolander, the reader really has no reason to care about Whisper's sacrifice, because through the book her character was developed no further than "the pretty French lady with fire powers", although the reader is given a taste of Whisper's apparent vanity in her suicide when she reconsiders shooting herself in the head and instead shoots herself in the chest so that she will look good at her funeral. Second, as far as it is explained, Faye, as the Spellbound, gets the magical power of any person who dies in proximity to her. But how is simply transferring Whisper's power to Faye supposed to improve the situation? Unless the Spellbound somehow multiplies the power (and if it does this, why not skip the step where people have to die), then this seems to be a zero-sum transaction that gains nothing. Finally, Faye's eventually solution - to transport a bomb intended by OCI to be used to kill the members of an anti-Active demonstration into the giant demon - seems like it would be less effective than the massive amount of military ordinance that had been deployed against the monster already.

In the end, the giant demon monster is blown up, but not before the reader must slog through pages and pages of tedious gun-porn in which the guns are, ironically, woefully ineffective at actually doing anything useful. Despite all of the sound and the fury in the book, the only developments of any real importance contained in its pages are Sullivan's conversation with Tokugawa, and the revelation that Faye is the Spellbound. And those are almost trivial footnotes in the book - despite Tokugawa's warning, almost no progress of any kind is made towards finding and stopping the Pathfinder, and not only is Faye only revealed to be the Spellbound near the end of the book, the reader isn't even told what the Spellbound is or what their significance is until a similarly late portion of the story. Everything else in Spellbound is little more than pointless wailing and gnashing of teeth that serves as little more than filler to justify having a middle book in the trilogy. As with Hard Magic, if following the exploits of a collection of characters who are less well-developed than the guns they carry through a paper thin plot set in a standard-issue fantasy world seems enticing to you, then Spellbound is a book you will enjoy. Otherwise, there's not much here worth bothering with.

This review has also been posted on my blog Dreaming About Other Worlds. ( )
  StormRaven | Jul 16, 2014 |
ORIGINALLY POSTED AT Fantasy Literature.

??Youƒ??re Heavy Jake Sullivan, arenƒ??t you?ƒ?
ƒ??Yep.ƒ?
ƒ??I was afraid of that.ƒ?

Larry Correia delivers another exciting magical alternate history with Spellbound, the second of his GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES. After Jake Sullivan and the gang took care of the German zombies, the Japanese Iron Guard, and Nikola Teslaƒ??s peace ray in Hard Magic, the magicals are needed again to thwart new threats to the country. This is hard to do, though, after theyƒ??ve been framed for the attempted assassination of President Roosevelt. Public approval for magicals is low and opposition groups are organizing to march on Washington. FDR decides that magic must be regulated and proposes a new-deal-type law that will require all magicals to register with the government and wear an identification badge.

Meanwhile, after receiving a phone call from Hell, the Grimnoir recognize that thereƒ??s a much greater magical threat that the American citizens are unaware of. Only the Grimnoir are equipped to handle it. Frustrated, they must take care of this alien evil while hiding from the government. Fortunately, they do have some really awesome magical powers, an unexpected powerful ally, and a lot of guns.

Once again, Iƒ??m surprised to find myself enjoying Larry Correiaƒ??s testosterone-pumping, gun-toting, blood-spurting, heads-rolling story, but thereƒ??s a lot more here than guns, guts and gore. Thereƒ??s a large diverse set of likeable and fully-developed fictional and real historical characters, an interesting historical backdrop, plenty of action and suspense, some blood-chilling moments, and a few quirky elements, too, such as an army of robots and a black hole.

Thereƒ??s also quite a bit of dark humor, which blends perfectly to lighten the mood just a bit when things get scary. I was always entertained by the scenes in which Lance takes over the body of an animal. I also love the adapted quotes at the beginning of the chapters, which put the story in its historical context. For example, one is from the New York Commissioner of Boxing who explains how, after Jack Johnson beat the Great White Hope, they bribed a referee and snuck in a Brute to end Johnsonƒ??s career (ƒ??Gotta keep the sport pure, yƒ??know?ƒ?).

Bronson Pinchotƒ??s performance in the audio version of Spellbound is nothing short of brilliant. Thereƒ??s a large international cast here and Pinchot handles all of those accents with ease. He perfectly captures the excitement, horror, and humor of Spellbound. If you donƒ??t read audiobooks, you might consider starting with this series. Itƒ??s a perfect example of how good audio can get.

Thereƒ??s danger on the horizon, American opinion about magicals is unstable (are they public heroes or public enemies?), and many questions remain about the Power, its motives, and Fayeƒ??s ties to it. Iƒ??m looking forward to the next GRIMNOIR CHRONICLES book. ( )
  Kat_Hooper | Apr 6, 2014 |
This was another fine ride in the Grimnoir universe! All the favorites are back, Jake, Faye and the rest of the bunch. The Grimnoir are being framed for all sorts of horrible crimes. Someone wants all the actives rounded up, tagged and controlled. Sound familiar? Too many times in the real world for sure.

This story has it's own adventure but also serves to push the plot forward for the final installment with an epic battle with an enemy that threatens the Earth. I loved how we see a little more of Jake Sullivan's character in this story. In the first book you get a glimpse that he is lot smarter than those with his ability usually are, but in this book you really see the depth of his intelligence. Faye learns something huge about herself. HUGE! Our little girl is growing up.

I can't say how much fun this series is. If you want a fast paced fun and exciting story then this is for you. I am listening to the book and the narrator is honestly spot on with all the characters. 5 stars for his narration. ( )
  luvamystery65 | Jul 3, 2013 |
The story in this book could have been an X-Men story arc, and I mean that in a good way.

I mentioned in my review for the first book in this series what I loved most about the Grimnoir Chronicles world, the fact that it's this unique blend of noir steampunk urban fantasy-sci-fi set in this alternate history of 1930s America. The Grimnoir are a secret society of magically empowered individuals, or "Actives", who exist to protect their own people against anti-magic violence as well as the "Normal" population against magical threats from more hostile and dangerous Actives.

Like X-Men, amirite? In fact, that's how I eventually came to think of the characters, as these dark superheroes, except their abilities are all derived from magic. "Heavies" can alter and manipulate gravity forces, "Torches" can control fire, "Travelers" are like teleporters, "Movers" have telekinetic abilities, etc. etc. etc.

In this book, anti-Active sentiment has reached an all time high and a government has initiated a push to have all Actives registered in order to keep tabs on them. Things get worse when an assassination attempt is pinned on Actives, and the Grimnoir become fugitives on the run. Meanwhile an insane government agent is rabidly trying to hunt them down, and if that's not enough Jake Sullivan also has to figure out how to put a stop to an otherworldly threat that would destroy the world if not stopped.

The series is just pure non-stop action and excitement, and it's getting better and better. ( )
  stefferoo | Mar 9, 2013 |
“Spellbound” is the second installment in Correia’s “Grimnoir Chronicles”, and it’s every bit as good as the first volume, “Hard Magic”. Set in an alternate early 1930s America, Correia’s world is one where magic works for certain people- Actives. They have superhero like abilities: some are super strong; some can manipulate fire, ice, gravity, mechanical things or electricity; some can read minds or compel others to their will; some can raise the dead or summon demons to do their will. While these talented people have been more or less accepted by regular homo sapiens (especially the really useful ones- Cogs like Edison, Tesla and Browning are valued for their inventions, while Brutes are very useful for heavy labor), that is changing as certain Actives strive to take over the world. A movement towards mandatory registration of all Actives is growing stronger- and after registration, confinement would almost certainly follow soon after. A special government agency has been set up to do this- but it’s going well beyond what it was created for.

Along with that danger, the alien entity that powers the Active’s abilities is being pursued by its enemy, which will destroy earth. The Japanese government keeps trying to take over the world. One of the Grimnoir- a group of Actives who strive to protect the earth- may be connected to something evil. That’s a lot for a group to deal with, even a group as talented and able as the Grimnoir.

The books feature a true ensemble cast- there is no one central character and the POV moves from one to another. There is no guarantee that any cast member, even a very important one, will survive a book- many died in “Hard Magic”. This creates a real suspense that doesn’t come in a lot of books, where one can assume that a main character will survive because there are more books in the series planned. I’ve really come to like the main characters in these books a lot; they learn, they have heartbreak, they grow.

“Spellbound” is nonstop action that combines magical powers, Japanese fighting techniques, hand to hand and enough gunfire to make Remington richer than anyone. It’s intelligent- the many plot strands are woven tightly with none forgotten. And it features the creepiest interrogation scene ever, one that will feature in my nightmares for some time. HIGHLY recommended! ( )
  dark_phoenix54 | Feb 15, 2012 |
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The Grimnoir Society's mission is to protect people with magic, and they've done so--successfully and in secret--since the mysterious arrival of the Power in the 1850s, but when a magical assassin makes an attempt on the life of President Franklin Roosevelt, the crime is pinned on the Grimnoir. The knights must become fugitives while they attempt to discover who framed them. Thing go from bad to worse when Jake Sullivan, former p.i. and knight of the Grimnoir, receives a telephone call from a dead man--a man he helped kill. Turns out the Power jumped universes because it was fleeing from a predator that eats magic and leaves destroyed worlds in its wake. And that predator has just landed on Earth.… (more)

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