I enjoyed Book I of The Grimnoir Chronicles immensely. I wasn’t really sure what Correia could do to top it. There’s the inevitable dread for sequels that everything has to be bigger bigger bigger with the cost to the heart of the story. (That’s more true in movies, but books can suffer as well).
And indeed, Correia does go bigger, but he loses nothing. Indeed, the higher stakes make this story all the more exciting without sacrificing the characters in any way.
As the story opens, we learn that it is a few months after the events of Book I. The Grimnoir are dispersed somewhat, with things falling into a somewhat logical place. Francis Stuyvesant is the head of United Blimp. Faye and Francis are more or less dating and Heinrich is more or less his bodyguard. The other team members are up to assorted states of resting and recuperating. And Jake Sullivan is lying low.
But no matter how low he thinks he is lying, he’s still very big. And he is soon found by a woman named Hammer. Of course, at first the story maintains the trappings of noir, with Hammer being a (beautiful) woman in distress. Surprisingly, she is in distress at the library and she asks Jake for help (he is there studying magic and, well, lying low). He tells her to ask the librarian. But later when he is leaving, he sees her being robbed by some thugs. He goes to rescue her (and easy job for a big guy like him), and Hammer uses her power to determine that he is indeed Heavy Jake Sullivan. And he can still do what he can do.
Hammer wrangles him into a government facility where he accepts a phone call from the dead Chairman. This whole section is lovingly described and far too cool to try to summarize. So let’s just say that Alexander Graham Bell created a phone that could talk to the dead–but only if they wanted to talk to us. The Chairman found the phone and, of all people, he wanted to speak to Jake. (I’m skipping so much stuff here that it hurts me, but I don’t want to spoil the story or the humor).
In a nutshell, the Chairman tells Jake that the creature that supplies the world with magic (as with everything else, read the Book I post to catch up) is under attack. And while it would be terrible if everyone lost his or her magic, the truth is that if that monster falls under attack, the whole planet will be doomed. What I loved about this is that it retroactively changes what we know about the first book. The Imperium, while being inhuman in their methods and generally being kind of jerks, were actually the only thing that kept the creature from attack (this will be the third time that the thing which attacks the creature is sending a sentry to determine the viability of attack). They were the only thing that saved the world. Holy shit. And without help from the Iron Guard (who know how to deal with this), the Grimnoir have limited hope.
But first, there’s an assassination attempt on President Roosevelt. Francis happens to be on hand as the explosion goes off and saves the President from certain disaster (in a very cool way). Although Heinrich is killed in the melee. And, worse yet, a Grimnoir ring is found on the prime suspect. It turns out that this is the last straw–the OCI, a secret government agency, has been let loose to control Actives. And the Grimnoir are their number one priority.
The face of the OCI is a man named Crow (or possibly Crowe? hard to tell in an audio book). Crow is a Summon. He can call demons from the other world and inhabit them. And he is the most powerful Summon ever, calling forth demons that make the ones the Grimnoir faced in the previous book look like little ghosts. Crow personally attacks a number of the Grimnoir with impunity. He also has a little device (created by Buckminster Fuller!) that restricts all magic in a certain radius. So, when he beats on the Francis, there’s little he can do to fight back. (Fuller, incidentally is not a bad guy, he didn’t realize what the OCI was up to–and his scenes are really very funny).
So, the thing is…something is coming to destroy the earth. But before the Grimnoir can stop it, they have to deal with a little thing like being Public Enemy #1 and having to fight the most powerful demon summoner ever. And about half way through the book, you realize that saving the world will have to wait (obviously until book 3).
Oh, and one of the Chairman’s Iron Guard has a death wish against Jake for killing the Chairman. And yet, Jake needs him to help save the world. Since the Chariman asked Jake for help, Iron Guard Toru has no choice but to help Jake against the creature. After which, they will fight to the death.
What about Faye, you may ask? Well, since her major power usage at the end of book one, she has been considerably weaker. Not useless, but certainly less impressive. And yet. from time to time she gets a power surge. Well, there’s a new Grimnoir who is helping them out called Whisper. Whisper knows a secret about Faye and she is on hand to watch her to make sure that Faye doesn’t turn into the Spellbound–a person whose magic takes over their entire body, making them far more dangerous than they imagine themselves to be. Faye of course, doesn’t know any of this and just knows that bad people must be destroyed and that good people must be saved. (And once she determines that you are okay in her book, you’re in good hands). Faye remains one of the best female kick ass characters I’ve read in a long time. And the fact that she has a crisis of conscience (at the end of the book) makes her even more deep than before.
The story has a number of wonderful elements in it–not the least of which is that the OCI thinks the Imperium were right in their methods–that the U.S. needs to be capturing and controlling Actives and studying them for future use. I also loved that more and more “real” people are brought into the book (mostly as cogs–who are really smart people) it’s fun seeing the real names pile up. And when the magic is rendered ineffective, it really shows how much the Grimnoir use it.
The book ends with a set up for Book III, Warbound (which has just been released, to the delight of me).
Since I spent most of the first review raving about Bronson Pinchot, I absolutely must mention here that he is once again stunning. He brings this book to life. And once again his character depictions and breadth of voices is nothing short of amazing.
It’s not often that a sequel surpasses the first book. I’m not entirely sure that this one did. The first book was just so good, that even though this one went bigger, and I was totally hooked, I think I enjoyed the first one a wee bit more. And I have to admit that at the end of this book, there is a massive peril to be faced which felt too…supernatural? It’s a strange complaint, i know since the whole book is about magic, but the magic all seems very human. The end of the book involves other-world demons and an otherworldy terror which kind of broke reality for me just a bit. Of course, Correia handled it very well and it works perfectly by the end of the book, but I do admit worrying–oh no, he jumped the shark. Naturally, Book 3 is going to be very otherworldly since the creature that is coming is from outer space (or something), but I hope it doesn’t get too sci-fi–I like this series firmly on the ground (except when it is traveling of course).
Can’t wait to see how it wraps up!