By Lee Kelly
Available February 2 from Saga Press (Simon & Schuster)
In the world of A CRIMINAL MAGIC, prohibition as we know it isn't a thing. Instead, sorcerer's shine is the forbidden drink being trafficked by organized crime. Joan Kendrick's uncle has been increasingly drunk on his own product, and she and her family can barely survive on his shows any more. When a stranger offers her money to use her magic in an experiment, she leaps at the chance.
Meanwhile, Alex Danfrey joined the feds after his father was busted for magic smuggling. His supervisor blackmails him into going undercover with a gang that seems to have a big racket in the works.
A CRIMINAL MAGIC is Lee Kelly's second book, and I sure hope there are sequels to come. It ends in a surprising and satisfying manner, but I'd still love to see more of what happens to Joan and Alex after the last cover closes.
I thought Kelly's alternate twenties were well thought out. I do find it a bit hard to believe that alcohol doesn't seem to exist, given that sorcerer's shine can only be made in small, localized batches with no shelf life. (Not to mention for much of human history, alcohol was safe to drink when the water wasn't.) At the same time, I think the way criminal elements control the restricted magic is very believable.
Most of all, I liked the characters. Joan and Alex are both people who are in a hard place, trying to do their best to survive. Joan starts out naive and Alex jaded, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Alex is the harder person. (And, to be fair, Joan has plenty of darkness in her past.) I was entertained the way both of them used their magic. Some days it seems hard to find a character who delights in having magic and comes up with cool ways to use it, much less two. (In fact, more than two!)
A CRIMINAL MAGIC is a sweet romance and wondrous exploration of magic revels. It's also a look at a seamy criminal underbelly and the way people will backstab each other for their own gain. It definitely has a strain of noir in its blood. I found myself sucked in, and enjoyed it down to the unconventional ending that suits the characters perfectly.