I’ve been rereading my way through the Laws of Magic series by Michael Pryor, and I’m reminded all over again why I love these books so much. Full reviews have been posted at Goodreads and you can read them there, but some brief thoughts below.
1. Blaze of Glory – We start a bit weaker on the plot, mostly because the ultimate villain has so little to do with the overall story the big reveal doesn’t have the emotional punch it could. That said, the dialogue is packed with humor, and I can’t go more than a couple of pages without laughing. George and Aubrey play particularly well off each other, because George knows Aubrey better than Aubrey knows himself, in some ways.
2. Heart of Gold – Here it’s almost the reverse of the first book. The plot is tangled but fast, and the humor is toned down a tad, but it’s still funny. I’m particularly fond of how Aubrey’s mistake in signing up for a drama means that while he’s trying to avert wars, solve a national crisis, stop zombies, and find a cure for his own impending death, he’s also getting harassed for missing play practice.
3. Word of Honor – This is the best of both the first two books combined. Now we get to see more tricky plots from the villain without flagging in the humor. This book also has a touch of horror near the end that works well to define what a monster Aubrey has set himself against.
4. Time of Trial – The first half of this book is probably my least favorite part of the series. Not because it’s badly written, but because Aubrey is getting knocked around so badly, and his appealing overconfidence is souring into gross misjudgements. That being said, the second half swings back into stride, and this book also has some of my favorite spells in the series, with Aubrey disarming some interesting magic. (The reaction he gets in the fifth book to the last one in particular always makes me laugh).
5. Moment of Truth – The war that’s been so long building up finally explodes. Aubrey gets to see events from a very different perspective, since he’s co-opted by the Intelligence Division rather than the regular army, an approach that works well as it allows him to hare off on some really entertaining missions without the oversight of military command. The end is particularly brilliant—Aubrey’s sacrifice for the greater good was unusual, but very compelling.
6. Hour of Need – As a finale to an excellent series, it does everything right. The war grows, the villain’s plans within plans within plans begin to show themselves, Aubrey is in his element as a magician plotting through fiendishly difficult problems . . . Another one of my favorite spells in the series is in this book (Aubrey’s trick in no-man’s-land). And there’s also the touching way George, Caroline, and Sophie have grown into a team around him, knowing his weaknesses and ready to cover for him.
On an overall level, it’s a lot of fun to see how Hugo von Stralick works his way through the series. A Holmland spy, an intelligence operative from the other side, his motives are many and never straightforward. Most of the time he’s helpful or at least not outright harmful, but then there are times his personal agendas run contrary to Aubrey’s.
Similarly, the only reason Aubrey’s genius works as well as it does is because he’s pitted against Tremaine. Aubrey consistently feels like an underdog when set against Tremaine’s superior knowledge, power, and utter lack of scruples. Where most magicians in the book are unimportant and overshadowed by Aubrey, Tremaine makes even Aubrey look like a child toying with forces he doesn’t understand.
I can’t recommend this series highly enough. It crosses several genres well, grounds itself in the historical detail but blending in magic and steampunk, has a great magic system, complex characters, and a tight plot. One of these days I’ll read with a notebook at hand to jot down the most quotable exchanges, as there are so many bits that always leave me laughing.