I saw A Criminal Magic pop up on Goodreads at the beginning of the year, and once I read the blurb, I immediately added it to my list.
“THE NIGHT CIRCUS meets PEAKY BLINDERS in Lee Kelly’s new crossover fantasy novel.
Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive – and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal. It’s 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city’s magic underworld is booming. Sorcerers cast illusions to aid mobsters’ crime sprees. Smugglers funnel magic contraband in from overseas. Gangs have established secret performance venues where patrons can lose themselves in magic, and take a mind-bending, intoxicating elixir known as the sorcerer’s shine…
A CRIMINAL MAGIC casts a spell of magic, high stakes and intrigue against the backdrop of a very different Roaring Twenties.”
How can you say no to that?! I managed to catch it for $2.99 on Amazon right after it released on February 2 (as opposed to $7.99 now), which was an amazing deal.
The blurb is spot on when it says this book is a mix between The Night Circus and Peaky Blinders. I had really high expectations, and I’m happy to say that they were met and exceeded. A Criminal Magic gets one of my rare 5-star reviews.
Although it’s billed as a YA book, I’d classify it as more of a New Adult/Adult book. There’s nothing particularly “adult” in the content, but the tone is still somehow more mature than your standard YA fare. I absolutely see why the blurb mentions The Night Circus, because the magical performance element in both books is very similar. There’s a major difference between the feel of the two books though. To me, The Night Circus excelled because of the very descriptive, lyrical language that drew you into the relationship between Celia and Marco and the world of Le Cirque des Rêves. A Criminal Magic, on the other hand, has less flowery language with more of a thriller style plot and the romance between Joan and Alex has a very different (but still satisfying) dynamic.
I have a soft spot for the fact that it’s set in a sort of alternate-reality Washington DC in Prohibition Era – but it’s magic that’s been outlawed, not booze. It was fun to read the references to M Street and the National Mall that I walk down on a regular basis :-) There are lots of subtle references that clue you into the time period, nothing overdone or kitschy and not too much slang (I love Libba Bray and her Diviners series, but the slang could go and I’d jump with joy!)
The characters were all very well written and managed to feel real without requiring a ton of backstory or obvious character development devices. There were enough hints in the story that you knew where you were headed, but it never felt like the author had given everything away.
And the ending was perfection. Perfection.
I’d recommend A Criminal Magic to anyone who enjoyed The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (obviously), The Girls at the Kingfisher Club by Genevieve Valentine, Libba Bray’s Diviners series, Samantha Shannon’s Bone Season series (which shares the mechanics of people-with-outlawed-abilities and big-city-gangs) or the musical Chicago.